During a private meeting with evangelical faith leaders in Iowa this summer, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina was asked about an issue he would prefer not to discuss: his love life.
Mr. Scott, 57, has put his faith and commitment to conservative family values at the center of his campaign for president, which at that point was in its earliest weeks. None of the pastors in attendance questioned his faith. But at least one was curious about his lack of a wife and children.
“You’re unmarried, and you want to lead the country. But we can’t even see how you’ve led a family. Help me out with that,” Michael Demastus, a pastor in Iowa who has met with the senator multiple times, recalled asking during the meeting. He meant the question, he added, “not in a condemning way — just genuinely want to know a little bit more.”
Mr. Scott told the group that he was in a relationship with a woman whom he was serious about but not yet ready to introduce to the public, according to two accounts of the meeting.
Mr. Demastus said that Mr. Scott’s response satisfied him in the moment, and that his congregation hasn’t seemed to care much one way or the other. It’s not a topic voters have clamored to ask the candidate about during town halls. And yet, as Mr. Scott joked at an evangelical conference in Des Moines, queries about the woman in his life have been “one of the more asked questions recently.”
And Mr. Scott is answering, however reluctantly.
“I am dating a lovely Christian girl,” he told Iowa’s attorney general, Brenna Bird, who asked him what she called the “personal” question right off the bat. “One of the things I love about the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it points us always in the right direction. Proverbs 18:22 says, ‘He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.’ So can we just pray together for me?”
A longtime bachelor, Mr. Scott is hardly a rarity in America, where more people than ever report being single. But a presidential candidate’s marital status is nearly impossible to avoid on the campaign trail. Some of Mr. Scott’s rivals, like Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Vivek Ramaswamy, have given their spouses and young children starring roles as they work to win over those evangelical voters for whom traditional family values are top of mind. The frequent domestic scenes offer a stark contrast with the race’s front-runner, former President Donald J. Trump, who is twice-divorced and facing four criminal indictments, one involving hush-money payments to a porn star. His wife, Melania Trump, has been largely absent.
Mr. Scott, who is polling in the lower single digits, is sometimes joined by his mother and his nephew, whom he speaks of as a son. And he talks so much about his life story and his Christian faith that many prospective voters in Iowa and New Hampshire said that after meeting him for the first time, they felt like they were learning much about him and his character, even without a spouse at his side.
Interviews with more than a dozen conservative voters and grass-roots organizers across early states suggest that they have bigger concerns than whom or whether Mr. Scott is dating.
Nearly all, most of whom had only begun paying attention to Mr. Scott this year, said they did not mind that he was unmarried or childless. Several said they weren’t aware of his marital status. And many said they cared far more about his views on meaty issues like immigration and the economy — and about what they saw as his lack of any personal scandal whatsoever.
“Is he? OK,” Anne Hoeing, 78, a New Hampshire voter and retired teacher, said after being informed that Mr. Scott was single. “Who cares? I mean, I don’t care. I would say I’d be very hesitant about a president who was married several times and there was all kinds of baggage — you know what I mean? I’d be more hesitant about that.”
After Axios reported this month that a small number of prospective Scott donors had expressed concerns about his marital status and his reluctance to discuss his personal life, Mr. Scott suggested that his opponents were behind it. “What we’ve seen is that poll after poll after poll says that the voters don’t care. But it seems like opponents do care, and so media covers what opponents plant,” he said in New Hampshire. “The good news is, I just keep fighting the good fight. Make sure that America is better off today than yesterday.”
In a more recent interview with The Washington Post, Mr. Scott offered a few additional details about his relationship: Mr. Scott and his girlfriend met through a friend from church, he said; they got to know each other by talking about God and doing Bible study together. They also played pickleball.
Mr. Scott declined to be interviewed for this article, and his campaign declined to identify his girlfriend or make her available to be interviewed.
He has suggested that rival campaigns planted stories about his being single because attacking him for his race would be a bridge too far. “You can’t say I’m Black, because that would be terrible, so find something else that you can attack,” Mr. Scott told The Post.
Addressing unfounded speculation about Mr. Scott’s sexual orientation that has bounced around the political chattering class, his campaign manager, Jennifer DeCasper, told The Post that he was not gay.
Those closest to Mr. Scott and his family say that the answer to the perennial question most single or unmarried people face — why? — is more reflective of his busy schedule than a lack of interest in dating.
“I don’t remember ever hearing that question until the presidential run,” said Chad Connelly, a former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party and founder of the faith-based political advocacy group Faith Wins.
Andy Sabin, a Republican megadonor who supports Mr. Scott’s campaign, said he had not spoken with Mr. Scott about his marital status or heard of concerns about it from prospective donors he has tried to court. He added that “not one person” had come to him with questions about Mr. Scott’s personal relationships.
“Nobody says you have to be married to be president,” Mr. Sabin said. “It’s kind of sad — you get presidents that are unhappily married. That’s worse.”
Mr. Scott would join a small group of bachelor presidents if elected. Only two have entered the White House unmarried: Grover Cleveland, who in 1886 was married at the White House, and James Buchanan, who left office in 1861 and never wed.
He is also not the first presidential candidate to face questions about his bachelorhood. Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, who is also unmarried, saw his marital status quickly become a subject of interest during his run for president in 2020. He made public his relationship with the actress Rosario Dawson roughly a month into his campaign.
During the 2016 presidential primary, Senator Lindsey Graham, also from South Carolina, faced a barrage of questions about his personal life. “I don’t think there’s anything in the Constitution that says single people need not apply for president,” Mr. Graham said at one point. “And if it bothers some people, then they won’t vote for me. I offer what I offer.”
Mr. Scott rose to prominence in South Carolina politics preaching — and practicing, according to him — abstinence before marriage. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 2010. But in 2012, the year he was appointed to the Senate, he told an interviewer that he was not adhering to that practice quite as well as he had in the past. He remained, however, reticent on the topic of his relationships.
His single status came up just days after he announced his 2024 presidential campaign. In a May appearance at an Axios event, Mr. Scott was asked about being a bachelor. At first he challenged the question: “The fact that half of America’s adult population is single for the first time, to suggest that somehow being married or not married is going to be the determining factor of whether you’re a good president or not, it sounds like we’re living in 1963 and not 2023,” he said.
Then he suggested that being single as president might be a benefit — before letting it slip that he was dating someone. “I probably have more time, more energy and more latitude to do the job,” Mr. Scott said, adding: “My girlfriend wants to see me when I come home.”
The disclosure spurred a flurry of interest.
Maurice Washington, a former chairman of the Charleston County Republican Party and a longtime Scott ally, faulted Mr. Scott’s presidential campaign for not proactively addressing questions about his personal life.
“I think the people he’s paying the big bucks to need to do a better job in preparing him in how he handles or responds to it,” Mr. Washington said.
Some voters said they saw Mr. Scott’s personal life as unexceptional.
“I didn’t get married until I was 37,” said Dave Laugerman, a 73-year-old architect from Des Moines who said he was considering supporting Mr. Scott and several other candidates as alternatives to Mr. Trump. “It doesn’t bother me at all.”