Scott's endorsement — which could come as soon as January, a month before his state's First in the South primary — is highly coveted. Scott says he has shared staff and talked politics with Chris Christie, catching him earlier this year at Gov. Nikki Haley's inauguration. He notes that he has worked with Jeb Bush and Jindal on education, his top priority. He recently met up with Scott Walker in Charleston and got to know him better through "several good conversations," including one a couple of Fridays ago that lasted "for about 45 minutes." Last year he went to fundraising events — and church — with Rubio and launched a Women in Leadership forum featuring Carly Fiorina. Even Donald Trump, who hasn't locked down a town hall yet, has spent time with Scott; you can find pictures of them holding replica flintlock rifles awarded by Citadel Military College cadets at the annual Patriot Dinner in February.
Why the candidates seek out Scott is clear: His popularity in the early-primary state is stratospheric. He's staked out a foothold on school choice, which the party has embraced and used to woo minority voters. And Scott is the only GOP African-American senator, the first of either party to win in the South since Reconstruction.
In an interview, Sen. Ted Cruz even compared Scott, who grew up poor in a single-parent household in North Charleston, to his own hero, Cruz's father, a "penniless immigrant" who was tortured by the forces of dictator Fulgencio Batista before leaving Cuba in 1957.
"Tim's own personal journey likewise came through struggle, through hard work, and he discovered the false hope and the dependency that the big-government solutions of the Left can present," said Cruz.
That kind of praise is guided not only by the candidates' relationship with Scott but by their South Carolina strategists, some of whom have worked to fuel Scott's rise. Cruz state director LaDonna Ryggs, who saw Scott speak, sing, and give roses to the National Federation of Republican Women at an event years ago, says she has a picture of her "little grandson" meeting Scott after she held signs for his Senate campaign with her family out on street corners. "I did a lot to help him get elected," she said.
Ryggs isn't alone. Rick Perry's top South Carolina adviser, Katon Dawson, who used to run the state GOP, says he has been friends with Scott for about 20 years, and worked for him when Scott ran for the state House. "I knew Tim before Tim was Tim," he said.
"I suspect Tim will be talked about as a vice presidential nominee before it's over with," said Dawson. "He draws a big audience. He's very well organized. It's something that is substantial. He fills up the auditoriums for people.
"It's not the end-all be-all to any campaign," adds Hogan Gidley, a Huckabee adviser, of a Scott endorsement. "But it's definitely wanted."