While traversing the Iowa State Fair Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Tim Scott weighed in on Sen. Mitt Romney’s strategy to back a Republican candidate who could defeat former President Donald Trump.

Scott likes the idea — if he is the candidate that others fall behind.

“I hope everyone coalesces around me,” Scott told the Deseret News. “That would be great.”

Per Romney’s strategy, unveiled in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last month, all Republican candidates and donors should coalesce behind a single, non-Trump candidate by the end of February to avoid “split[ting] the non-Trump vote” and awarding the former president a victory. Romney — who ran for president in 2008 and 2012 — reportedly worked behind the scenes in 2016 to a similar end. The candidates didn’t listen.

What about now? “I like the thought of everybody coalescing around my candidacy, without any question,” Scott said. “So I’ll continue to work really hard.”

He did not specify whether he would be open to dropping out of the race by the end of February if he is not the leading non-Trump candidate.

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Scott has represented South Carolina in the U.S. Senate since 2013. He has collaborated with Romney on several pieces of legislation, including a bill to block President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan and a tough-on-China amendment to the 2024 defense budget.

Romney has expressed his support for Scott’s candidacy — though he has not gone as far as endorsing him. “He’s someone who I would be happy if he became president of the United States,” Romney told NBC News shortly before Scott announced his candidacy in May. “There are a number of people who I feel that way about; he’s certainly one of them.”

Scott has struggled to gain traction in national polls, hovering around 2%. Trump maintains a dominant lead, polling above 50%, with his closest challenger — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — in the mid-teens.

The South Carolina senator has been hesitant in his critiques of the front-runner. After Trump was indicted Monday evening — for the fourth time this year — by a Georgia grand jury for his attempts to overturn the 2020 election, Scott emphasized to reporters Tuesday it was evidence of the “legal system being weaponized against political opponents, that is un-American and unacceptable.”

Scott’s visit to the Iowa State Fair Tuesday came days after several other Republican candidates — including Trump, DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy — convened on the fairgrounds Saturday. Scott participated in a “fair-side chat,” a public sit-down interview with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, as did DeSantis and Haley, where the senator emphasized his positions on school choice and fighting crime by “refunding the police.”

But he opted out of the Des Moines Register Soapbox, where candidates give a stump speech and host a question-and-answer with fair attendees. Trump and DeSantis also opted out during their visits Saturday.

Instead, after concluding his fair-side chat, Scott maneuvered his way through a series of carefully crafted meet-and-greets and photo ops: flipping pork chops with Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; combing cattle alongside Iowa’s agriculture secretary; eating lunch at Cattleman’s Quarters, home of the “hot beef sundae.” 

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Scott’s careful planning — arriving at the fair Tuesday, days after several of his challengers — afforded him near-uninterrupted attention from the press, with some 30 journalists following him as he wandered through the fairgrounds. The only other Republican presidential candidates at the fair Tuesday were former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and businessman Ryan Blinkley, neither of whom have qualified for the first debate.

Iowa’s 2024 Republican presidential caucuses are scheduled for Jan. 15, the earliest primary contest in the nation. Scott has made several visits to Iowa in recent months. His campaign has run ads in the state since May, and a new $40 million ad campaign is set to roll out in Iowa — alongside South Carolina and New Hampshire — next month.

Kelsey Bailey had several cows from her farm on display at the Cattle Barn. As Scott passed through, she recognized him from his ads. 

“He has Christian values,” Bailey said. “He appears to appreciate a work ethic. And as a farmer and a teacher, I certainly appreciate when people have a solid work ethic.”

Aaron, a middle-aged man from Cedar Rapids, said he drove two-and-a-half hours to hear Scott. (He declined to give his last name.) He watched Scott flip pork chops with Ernst. “I just like his message of change, you know? Not doing the same-old, same-old,” Aaron said. “And so the change is more so more important to me than his race. But it’s just nice that he does know the issues that I’ve faced because I’m an African American.”

Sen. Tim Scott greets workers before working the grill at the Iowa Pork Producers tent at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., greets workers before working the grill at the Iowa Pork Producers tent at the Iowa State Fair, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. | Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press