He’s already a U.S. Congressman from South Carolina with a remarkable rags-to-riches story and a conservative favorite who has long enjoyed the good favor of Tea Party kingmaker and outgoing Senator Jim DeMint.
And Tim Scott also happens to be an African-American.
The possibility of his succeeding DeMint appears to be just what the Republican Party had in mind as it tries to pick up the pieces following last month’s disastrous election results and diversify its ranks.
That means that Scott might soon be the first African-American senator from the South since Reconstruction if Gov. Nikki Haley decides to appoint him to the seat vacated by DeMint, who abruptly resigned Thursday to take a job running The Heritage Foundation.
“Tim Scott is obviously the undisputed favorite,” one South Carolina GOP operative told U.S. News. “It would be very historic for the state’s first woman governor to appoint the Senate’s only African-American man.”
DeMint and Scott are close, personally and ideologically, and Scott has the conservative bona fides that are undoubtedly DeMint-approved. Scott has risen in the House quickly since his election in 2010, serving on the powerful Rules Committee and working closely with GOP leadership as a liaison for the freshman class, while maintaining good relationships with the influential Tea Party wing of House Republicans.
DeMint is staying mum on his preferred pick, saying he’ll leave the decision to Haley. Likewise, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he isn’t going to speculate on who might join him in the upper chamber.
Scott, along with fellow South Carolina GOP freshmen Trey Gowdy, Mick Mulvaney and Jeff Duncan, quickly became known as the “Fab Four,” or more ominously, “The Four Horsemen,” who came to Washington ready to shake things up. They’ve remained united on most issues and are all steadfastly conservative.
But Scott also has the kind of personal story that’s undoubtedly appealing to a party that’s desperately in need of broadening its base beyond older, white men. He worked his way out of poverty to become a successful small-business man, local politician and eventual congressman. If appointed, Scott would be the only black senator to currently serve in the chamber, and the first since Illinois Democrat Roland Burris left the Senate in 2010.
At the crux of his conservative beliefs is the idea that capitalism and hard work can help the poor move up the economic ladder. And he tells that story at every opportunity.
“As a poor kid growing up in a single-parent household in North Charleston, S.C., I felt like I didn’t have much going for me,” Scott said in a speech at the Republican National Convention this summer. “I did have a mom who believed in tough love, and that love comes at the end of a switch … and [a] small-business owner, who was my mentor, who taught me I could think my way out of poverty.”
Scott’s mentor taught him that “having a job is a good thing, but creating jobs was even better.”
South Carolina political consultant Taft Matney said any of the four GOP freshmen from the Palmetto State would be a good fit for the seat, but Scott in particular “would easily be able to carry Jim DeMint’s banner.”
“He’s a great speaker and a great leader,” Matney said. “And he has one of the most compelling stories.”
But it’s Scott’s ability to articulate the case for conservatism among the poor that may put him ahead of the pack.
“He can say all the things Jim DeMint says, which, when Jim says it, can sound sometimes to the outside world as pretty harsh,” said Brent Nelsen, a political science professor at Furman University, Politico reported. “Tim says exactly the same things as Jim does, but he talks about his upbringing and the mentor who taught him the principles of making it in the world. He’s really credible as a conservative who has a heart for disadvantaged people.”
Others in the state have speculated that Scott might have different aspirations, such as running for governor or continuing to move up in House leadership. He was recently picked to serve on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
For now, Scott is taking a cue from DeMint and staying quiet about his future.
“Looking forward, Gov. Haley will now appoint a new senator, and I know she will make the right choice both for South Carolina and the nation,” he said in a statement Thursday.
Still, conservatives quickly jumped on board with a potential Sen. Tim Scott.
“About the only thing that could make this more awesome is if Gov. Nikki Haley ensures the Senate’s only black senator is a conservative Republican who presently represents the congressional district in which Ft. Sumter sits,” wrote Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of RedState.com.