COLUMBIA, S.C. — Republican presidential candidate Tim Scott announced late Sunday that he was dropping out of the 2024 race, about two months before the start of voting in Iowa’s leadoff caucuses.

The South Carolina senator, who entered the race in May with high hopes, made the surprise announcement on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Night in America” with Trey Gowdy. The news was so abrupt that one campaign worker told The Associated Press that campaign staff found out Scott was dropping out by watching the show. The worker was not authorized to discuss the internal deliberations publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“I love America more today than I did on May 22,” Scott said Sunday. “But when I go back to Iowa, it will not be as a presidential candidate. I am suspending my campaign. I think the voters who are the most remarkable people on the planet have been really clear that they’re telling me, ‘Not now, Tim.’”

Scott’s impending departure comes as he and the rest of the GOP field have struggled in a race that has been dominated by former President Donald Trump. Despite four criminal indictments and a slew of other legal challenges, Trump continues to poll far ahead of his rivals, leading many in the party to conclude the race is effectively over, barring some stunning change of fortune.

Scott, in particular, has had trouble gaining traction in the polls, despite millions spent on his behalf by high-profile donors. In his efforts to run a positive campaign, he was often overshadowed by other candidates — particularly on the debate stage, where he seemed to disappear as others sparred. It was unclear whether Scott would qualify for the fourth debate, which will require higher polling numbers and more unique donors.

He was the second high-profile Republican to depart from the race in the last couple of weeks, coming after former Vice President Mike Pence, who was still dealing with fallout from his decision to reject a scheme by Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which was won by Democrat Joe Biden, and avoid a constitutional crisis.

Scott said he wouldn’t be making an endorsement of his remaining Republican rivals.

“The voters are really smart,” Scott said. “The best way for me to be helpful is to not weigh in on who they should endorse.”

He also appeared to rule out serving as vice president, saying the No. 2 slot “has never been on my to-do list for this campaign, and it’s certainly not there now.”

Trump’s campaign did not immediately respond to news of Scott’s exit. But Trump has been careful not to criticize the senator, leading some in his orbit to consider Scott a potential vice presidential pick.

The former president and his team had welcomed a large field of rivals, believing they would splinter the anti-Trump vote and prevent a clear challenger from emerging.

Scott, a deeply religious former insurance broker, made his grandfather’s work in the cotton fields of the Deep South a bedrock of his political identity and of his presidential campaign. But he also refused to frame his own life story around the country’s racial inequities, insisting that those who disagree with his views on the issue are trying to “weaponize race to divide us,” and that “the truth of my life disproves their lies.”

He sought to focus on hopeful themes and avoid divisive language to distinguish himself from the grievance-based politics favored by rivals including Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis responded to Scott’s announced departure by commending him as a “strong conservative with bold ideas about how to get our country back on track.

“I respect his courage to run this campaign and thank him for his service to America and the U.S. Senate,” he wrote on social media.

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