South Carolina Conservatives Ready For Sen. Tim Scott

If South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) appoints Rep. Tim Scott (R) to replace outgoing Sen. Jim DeMint (R) — as DeMint wants her to, according to a source — she won’t face much opposition from inside the state, according to several conservative activists TPM spoke with Thursday.Scott, who represents Charleston in Congress and was just elected to his second term, is as good a pick as any, tea party activists told TPM. Activists said that if DeMint wants him as his replacement, there will be a lot of pressure on Haley to put Scott in office until 2014’s special election.

It would be the next step in a meteoric rise for Scott, who first got to Congress by defeating one of the state’s most powerful political families. Scott defeated the son of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) in the 2010 Republican primary with the help of support from Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, among other top national conservatives. The win was cast as an “irony” in the press, with an African American tea partier defeating the son of one of America’s most notorious segregationists. (Thurmond won a seat in the state Senate on Nov. 6.)

Once on the Hill, Scott quickly endeared himself to his fellow Republicans. Speaker Boehner made him one of two freshman liaisons to House leadership, and Scott’s face was often on TV pushing Republican policies. His influence extended to the 2012 Republican presidential primaries in South Carolina — the major candidates each held a joint town hall with Scott ahead of the Palmetto State primary.

National conservatives love him, too. Red State founder Erick Erickson called on Haley Thursday to appoint Scott to DeMint’s seat. “About the only thing that could make this more awesome is if Governor Nikki Haley ensures the Senate’s only black Senator is a conservative Republican who presently represents the congressional district in which Ft. Sumter sits,” he wrote.

In South Carolina, Scott’s name was not the first that came to mind when activists were asked who they’d like to see replace DeMint in the Senate. Rep. Mick Mulvaney was mentioned, as was state Sen. Tom Davis, who South Carolina conservatives want to run against Sen. Lindsey Graham in the 2014 Republican primary. But after they were told DeMint wanted Scott to replace him, conservative activists and party figures alike were fans of the idea.

“If [DeMint] recommends it, I can almost guarantee it that Gov. Haley will appoint him,” said Allen Olson, the founder of the Columbia, S.C. tea party group. Olson has since left the movement — claiming it was “co-opted by the Republican Party” — but remains active in conservative politics in the state as an issue advocate. He said conservatives in the state will be happy to see Scott move to the Senate and take DeMint’s place.

“Oh yeah,” he said when asked if the idea excites him. “Or any one of our congressmen, with the exception of Clyburn.” Rep. James Clyburn is a member of the House Democratic leadership and the only Democrat in the South Carolina congressional delegation.

In a state as Republican as South Carolina, the Senate seat is quite a prize and some Republicans warn Haley could go her own way.

“I do think that Haley and DeMint are cut from the same cloth. They think the same way about a lot of things,” said Linda Bennett, chair of the Charleston Republican Party. “But it’s South Carolina. You just never know.”

Asked how she feels about losing her congressmen to the Senate, Bennett said she was “torn.”

“I certainly would miss him,” she said. “He’s done such a great job and we all think so highly of him.”