Rep. Tim Scott of South Carolina has arrived in an almost unprecedented position: a black Republicans who is the heavy favorite to be appointed U.S. Senator from South Carolina. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has emphasized she will make her own to choice to replace retiring Jim DeMint and not bow to public pressure, but Scott has managed to emerge as the obvious pick.
How did he do it, less than two years into his career in Washington? By being the anti-Allen West.
Trumpeting his Horatio Alger story of growing up in a poor, single-parent family to become a successful small businessman and member of the Charleston County Council, Scott rode the 2010 Tea Party wave to Congress. While the other black newly-elected GOP representative, West (R-FL), stayed in the spotlight because of his inflammatory rhetoric, Scott rose quietly and steadily through the ranks by taking an equally conservative but less strident tone.
Since arriving on the Hill, the sophomore representative has toed the staunch Tea Party line, including voting to repeal President Obama’s health care law and co-sponsoring a bill with immigration hardliner Steve King (R-IA) to deny birthright citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants.
While any of South Carolina’s republican House members will carry the DeMint banner, Scott has the potential to put a non-white face on the southern GOP.
“He can say all the things Jim DeMint says, which when Jim says it can sound sometimes to the outside world as pretty harsh,” Furman University political scientist Brent Furman told Politico. “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.”
If appointed, Scott would be the first African-American senator from the South since Reconstruction, the only black senator to currently serve in the chamber and the only black Republican to serve in the Senate since Edward Brooke of Massachusetts lost reelection in 1978.
If he is Haley’s choice, Scott will have to face the voters in a special election in 2014. Winning a statewide election in this conservative and racially divisive state might seem like an uphill battle for the black legislator.
Republican candidates rarely get more than 10 percent of the African-American vote and it is unlikely that Scott will do much better. However, Scott has already demonstrated his appeal to South Carolina’s white, conservative electorate by defeating Paul Thurmond, son of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC), in the 2010 Republican primary with the backing of Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and other prominent conservatives.
Also, as the GOP continues to bleed support among minorities, the party would do well to have its anti-Obama rhetoric espoused by a black face from time to time. Scott is happy to oblige. He suggested impeachment if the President bypassed Congress to raise the debt ceiling. In January, he prominently refused to attend the President’s State of the Union address to Congress.
During the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, he stood beside Gov. Haley to make the case against Obama, saying that debt was higher and that hope was significantly lower since his election.
Scott refused to join the Congressional Black Caucus, saying he opposes identity politics. However, it’s hard to believe that if he were white, his star within the GOP would have risen so quickly. Despite being a well-advised political move, his potential appointment seems like the quintessential affirmative action pick.