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Presidential Hopefuls Square Off In First GOP Debate

Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) speaks during the first debate of the GOP primary season hosted by FOX News at the Fiserv Forum on August 23, 2023, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. | Source: Win McNamee / Getty

The Republican presidential candidates seemingly auditioning to be Donald Trump’s running mate in the 2024 election are once again set to debate the issues when they meet Wednesday night in Simi Valley, California.

It’ll be the second Republican presidential primary debate of the young election season, but it may be the first one that includes questions of a candidate’s marital status – or lack thereof – if the discourse in recent weeks is any indication.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the lone Black candidate who qualified for Wednesday’s debate, has been trying to put his campaign in a position to resonate with Republican voters, particularly with recent commentary about immigration and the border.

But for the life of him, Scott can’t escape the scrutiny of being single and unmarried, a topic he’s been forced to increasingly confront along the campaign trail.

Considering those facts, chances are that not only the debate moderators will ask him about being a 59-year-old bachelor but his rival candidates could also broach the topic in an effort to somehow discredit his candidacy.

Scott has said that “voters don’t care” that he’s unmarried, but reports have claimed that Republican donors have questions about him being single.

That’s likely why Scott has been increasingly mentioning his “girlfriend” in recent weeks.

A couple of weekends ago, Scott was asked by Republican Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird whether he had “any special lady” in his life.

“I’m dating a lovely Christian girl,” Scott replied before quoting the Bible in an apparent suggestion that he may propose to the mystery woman.

“He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord,” Scott said before kneeling and asking a chuckling audience to pray with him.

He continued by saying that “yes,” he’s “very excited” about his “girlfriend.”

The attention to Scott’s bachelorhood seemingly first arose back in May when NBC News asked whether he “had time for a woman” in his life amid a presidential campaign. Scott responded cryptically by saying “a great relationship with a wonderful woman” is “happening.”

About a week later, Scott went slightly more in depth while casually mentioning during an interview with Axios that he has a “girlfriend” in response to a question about why voters would want to hear about family values from an unmarried man with no children.

The attention on a candidate’s marital status is seemingly unprecedented.

The United States has not elected an unmarried president since James Buchanan in 1856, or 167 years ago. But it’s important to note that when Scott’s fellow unmarried Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham ran for president in 2016, this type of scrutiny was notably missing from his campaign.

The scrutiny could also be rooted in homophobia, critics have suggested.

“‘Bachelor status’ is code for ‘sexual identity,’” Boston Globe columnist and associate opinion editor Renée Graham recently explained. “And Republicans not keen on a candidate facing four criminal trials might be even more unlikely to support someone they might believe could be a closeted gay man.”

Scott has suggested his opponents were planting stories in the press “to distract from our rise in the polls.” He said his “girlfriend” would be introduced to the world “at some point.”

Could that “point” come on Wednesday during the debate when he is all but guaranteed to be asked about the topic?


Scott, for his part, said he wasn’t worried about having a so-called “breakout moment” in the debate on Wednesday night after critics suggested he had an underwhelming showing the first time around last month.

During an interview this past Sunday, Scott told Fox News he just needed to keep “showing up” to meet with potential voters in influential states and not pay attention to polling numbers.

“The more time I spend in Iowa, the better off I will be. The more time I spend in New Hampshire, the better off I will be,” Scott said before adding later: “The good news is polls don’t vote, but people do, and so I need to make sure that I find myself in front of the most people as possible on a consistent basis.”

The latest national polling found Scott trailing the front-runner Trump by double-digits at a distant fourth place with just 6% of voters supporting his candidacy — a drop from his high of 11% in July.

He will be squaring off on the debate stage against six other candidates: North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota, Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina governor and former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.


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