The surprising resignation of Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, one of President Obama’s sharpest critics even among Republicans, creates an intriguing possibility: House Republican Tim Scott being appointed to replace him and becoming the only black member of the Senate and first Republican since the 1970s.
DeMint, who in 2009 famously said he hoped that the health care legislation Obama was pushing would fail and become “his Waterloo,” is stepping down to run the Heritage Foundation, one of Washington’s biggest and most influential conservative think tanks.
While beloved by conservatives outside of Washington, he was unpopular among both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate. Democrats thought he blocked legislation in the Senate for sport, while Republicans in the Senate blamed him for supporting Tea Party candidates in primaries who were too conservative to win the general election, damaging the party’s chances of controlling the chamber.
Scott, who represents a district based in Charleston, was elected in the Republican wave of 2010. He has been a very reliable conservative vote in Congress and opponent of President Obama’s agenda. But he has not made the inflammatory statements of the other black Republican elected in 2010, Florida’s Allen West, who was narrowly defeated in November. Scott won re-election with 62 percent of the vote in his heavily-Republican district this year.
CNN is reporting that Scott is DeMint’s top choice as a replacement, although Scott is also rumored to want to run for governor in 2018.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley gets to appoint the replacement, who will serve until a special election in 2014.
Scott has so far not commented on the speculation. If selected, he would be the first black senator since early 2011, when Roland Burris of Illinois left Congress after serving the last two years of President Obama’s seat.
Scott would be the first black Republican senator since Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, who left the Senate in 1979.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr