Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina on Monday appointed GOP Congressman Tim Scott to fill the seat vacated by outgoing Senator Jim DeMint. Scott, who takes office Jan. 3, will become the first black Senator from the South since 1881, as well as the only African-American in the chamber.
“It is with great pleasure that I am announcing our next U.S. senator to be Congressman Tim Scott,” Haley said. “I am strongly convinced that the entire state understands that this is the right U.S. senator for our state and our country.”
Scott, 47, became a frontrunner for the post when DeMint announced his impending departure earlier in December. A favorite among both the GOP establishment and the Tea Party movement, Scott, 47, is a pro-life, pro-gun rights social conservative. His star has been on the rise since he arrived on Capitol Hill after winning election to the House in the Tea Party wave of 2010. In 2010, the 80-plus newly elected Republican members of Congress selected Scott as one of their two representatives to the Elected Leadership Committee. Last year House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told National Journal that Scott was “leadership personified,” and he was awarded a coveted speaking slot at the Republican convention in Tampa earlier this year.
Though his selection marks an important step for a party that has struggled to broaden its appeal beyond its white, rural base, Scott has steered clear of identity politics. He refused to join the Congressional Black Caucus, which will lose its only Republican member, Allen West, next year. “It is important to me, as a minority female, that Congressman Scott earned this seat,” Haley said. “He earned this seat for the person that he is. He earned this seat with the results he has shown.” Scott will be the seventh African-American senator, and the first black Republican senator since Edward Brooke, who served Massachusetts from 1967 to 1979.
Scott hails from the Palmetto State’s staunchly conservative 1st District, which stretches along along the southeastern coastline and includes both Charleston and Myrtle Beach. In 2010, he defeated councilman Paul Thurmond, son of segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond, to win the GOP’s congressional nomination. In November he won re-election with 65% of the vote. His ascension to the Senate may help the Republican Party rebrand itself after an election in which just 7% of African Americans backed Mitt Romney. The son of a single mother who worked as a nurse’s assistant, Scott clawed his way through high school and earned a partial football scholarship before becoming the wealthy part-owner of a real estate agency — the kind of bootstrapping personal narrative that conservatives believe can resonate with more middle and lower-class voters. In his remarks today, Scott praised his mom for his success. “I am thankful for a strong mom that understood that love sometimes comes at the end of a switch,” he said, according to the Washington Post.
Scott was reportedly the replacement preferred by DeMint, who announced this month he would leave office on Jan. 1 to become the president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank. The newly minted senator will run in a 2014 special election to determine who finishes the remainder of DeMint’s term, which expires in 2016. South Carolina’s senior Senator Lindsey Graham will also stand for re-election in 2014.