COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — State Rep. Krystle Matthews on Tuesday won the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, a general election campaign that could begin under the cloud of a possible ethics investigation.
Matthews, the second-place finisher in a June 14 primary, defeated author and preservationist Catherine Fleming Bruce in the runoff.
Matthews has said she wants to change a toxic culture she says leads senators and others in power to strip away the rights of minorities and those who are in the most need of protection.
Over the weekend, conservative activist group Project Veritas published leaked audio purportedly of Matthews speaking to an inmate about funding her campaign with “dope boy money” and having Democrats run as Republicans, saying “secret sleepers” represent “the only way you’re gonna change the dynamics in South Carolina.”
On Tuesday, Matthews confirmed to The Associated Press that it was her voice on the tape but said the edited audio of a “tongue-in-cheek” exchange didn’t reflect the full picture.
“That’s the problem, when you have a private conversation, where people don’t have any context,” she said. “I am not advocating for any illegal activity in campaigns.”
Officials with the state House Ethics Committee said Tuesday they could launch a probe based off the audio leak, about which Matthews said she was “not worried.”
“People of South Carolina want somebody authentic and real,” Matthews told AP. “They are tired of people posing to be caring, posing to be intelligent, posing to be kind, and then finding out later on down the road that these people don’t even show up for them.”
Matthews also will run in November for a third state House term if she loses the U.S. Senate race.
In an emailed statement, state GOP Chairman Drew McKissick congratulated the “radical Democrat” Matthews, adding that Republicans “can't wait to demonstrate her stark differences” from Scott.
The incumbent, who has been one of South Carolina’s more popular politicians, had no primary opposition and has raised $44 million for his pursuit of a second full six-year term.
Bruce and Matthews have raised a combined $131,000, according to federal fundraising data.
Scott, the Senate’s sole Black Republican, has said this will be his last term if he is reelected. He won a 2014 special election and his 2016 regular term by more than 60% of the vote.
One of the GOP’s go-to standouts particularly on race and policing issues, Scott has faced a Black opponent in each of his three campaigns. He was a congressman when then-Gov. Nikki Haley appointed him to the Senate seat left open when Jim DeMint resigned in 2012.
Scott is also being touted by some as a potential 2024 presidential candidate, although he has not mentioned it himself.
Scott received former President Donald Trump's “complete and total endorsement” last year. In the Senate, Scott often aligned with Trump, voting with him nearly 91% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Scott's launch video featured plaudits from former Trump administration officials who could potentially be part of a GOP presidential field with Scott, including former Haley — who served as Trump's U.N. Ambassador — former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Scott touts his conservative credentials and got a primetime speech at the 2020 Republican National Convention. But he has also noted his work with Democrats on police reform legislation.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at: http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.
Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press