Tim Scott to name longtime aide as head of likely presidential bid

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As South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott prepares for a likely 2024 presidential bid, CBS News has exclusively learned he would name longtime aide and former chief of staff Jennifer DeCasper to be his campaign manager.

DeCasper would make history as the first woman of color to run a Republican presidential campaign. She served as Scott's chief of staff — the first Black woman to hold that position in the Senate — before departing last year to start her own firm and advise the senator's super PAC. She started working for Scott shortly after he was elected to the House in 2010.

Scott launched an exploratory committee in April and is teasing an official announcement in his hometown of Charleston on May 22. Scott, who was the first Black senator elected from the South since the reconstruction, is positioning himself as the optimistic candidate in the 2024 Republican field —  to present a contrast with early front runner and former President Donald Trump, though he has not criticized him directly.

"Americans are starving for hope. They're starving for optimism and in a positive approach to solving the problems that we have," he told CBS News when he launched his exploratory committee. "What I've heard from the American people is that they want us to focus on them, not on each other. And I'm going to do that."

In an interview with CBS News, DeCasper echoed that sentiment: "Our goal is to be who we are… to show that we can be conservative without being bullies."

DeCasper's journey to the highest position in political campaigns started in humble circumstances. She gives credit for her work ethic to her father, who would wake up at 3 a.m. to work as a garbage man in her native Colorado Springs. DeCasper first came to Washington to work for a Republican senator. She later graduated from University of Michigan Law School, and worked as a state district attorney while raising her daughter as a single mom. She decided to leave her job to seek work on Capitol Hill, which she said had long been career goal.

But DeCasper started her job search during the 2008 economic crisis and struggled to find work at a law firm or on Capitol Hill.

After looking desperately for months without success, she spotted an ad in the back of the Washington Post for work as a ramp agent at Dulles International Airport in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. The job entailed moving luggage on the tarmac and airplane ramps, among other duties "under the wing" — a far cry from the work for which her top-flight law school degree had prepared her.

"I became humbled," DeCasper told  CBS News. She said she leaned into her Christian faith during the year she worked at the busy airport. She recalled even running into a former law firm colleague on a ramp as she handled her luggage before a flight. Her former coworker didn't recognize her in her orange vest. DeCasper said she relied on prayer and found a connection with her ramp colleagues, many of whom came from " all over world."  She still keeps in contact with them today, since many of them remain airport employees.

Her experience on the tarmac, in the orange vest, has stayed with her.

"When I became chief, I always told my staff, 'You will be friends with the guy that fixes your printer or the guy that's changing the toilet paper in the bathroom, like you will be respectful, polite — you have no idea what's going on in their life,'" DeCasper said.

Her life changed when she received an unexpected call from Capitol Hill. Her resume had somehow landed in the office of then-South Carolina Rep. Tim Scott. She doesn't know how it ended up in Scott's hands, but she was grateful.

"Only in this country can the daughter of a garbageman go from the tarmacs of Dulles to the corridors of the Capitol in barely a decade," Scott told CBS News in a statement. "She continually inspires me with her story and guides me with her counsel. I'm thankful to have her on my team."

DeCasper says she found she had a lot in common with Scott, and hopes to highlight those similarities during the campaign. "Our stories are very American, right? I was raised by a garbage man and a single mother, and now I'm about to be the campaign manager for somebody who wants to be leader of the free world who was also raised by a single mother," she told CBS News. "A lot of us come from these backgrounds that have made us stronger, and made us what makes America great. And I think that people need to see that an option that reflects their lives and their story is available. And so, my job is to protect that."

Scott has also noted how he shares a bond with DeCasper as a Black Republican.

"I think she understands the misery in a shared fashion," Scott told the Post and Courier in a 2017 profile. "Being a black Republican can be a misery at times because of the incoming fire you have on a constant basis. I think, probably she more than others, is able to personalize it, to bear part of that burden, which is helpful for me."

"There's the burden-sharing, and everything she does that makes my job easier," Scott said. "And daily, she's one of my best friends. Someone who has your back, and not just because you're paid to."

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