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DeMint's Replacement Has Had Quick Political Rise

Dec 17, 2012
Originally published on December 17, 2012 7:19 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

South Carolina is getting a new U.S. senator. Governor Nikki Haley announced today that she is appointing Republican Congressman Tim Scott to fill the seat being vacated by Jim DeMint who's retiring. Scott is a freshman member of the House.

And as NPR's Brian Naylor reports, he will be the first African-American senator from the South since Reconstruction.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Tim Scott was seen as the favored choice to replace DeMint, who is leaving to become president of the Heritage Foundation. A favorite of Tea Party groups, Scott holds strongly conservative views, similar to DeMint on fiscal and social issues. In making her announcement, Haley said no one could fill DeMint's shoes, or as she put it, carry on that torch. But it was, she said, a new day in South Carolina.

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GOVERNOR NIKKI HALEY: It is very important to me, as a minority female, that Congressman Scott earned this seat. He earned this seat for the person that he is. He earned this seat for the results he has shown. He earned this seat for what I know he's going to do in making South Carolina and making our country proud.

NAYLOR: Scott is 47. He had a hardscrabble childhood, growing up in North Charleston with a divorced mother who worked long days as a nurses' aide. He nearly flunked out of high school and worked several jobs as a teen. He says he was taught by the franchise owner of a Chic-fil-A restaurant the importance of self-discipline and education, which Scott says led him to where he is today.

REPRESENTATIVE TIM SCOTT: When you start out in a single-parent household with a mom who works 16 hours a day, and you're looking at a future that doesn't look as bright, and you're living in North Charleston, South Carolina, you build a strength that comes from having an appreciation and understanding that it's not about you, that it's about your faith, it's about your family.

NAYLOR: Scott's political rise has been quick. He served on the Charleston City Council and a term as a state legislator. He defeated the son of former GOP Senator Strom Thurmond in a primary, before winning election to Congress in 2010. There, Scott was made a liaison of the freshman class to House GOP leadership and was named to a seat on the Rules Committee. That's a sign of the trust GOP leaders placed in him. But he wasn't afraid to buck leadership, voting against last summers deal to raise the federal debt ceiling.

At today's news conference in Columbia, Scott preached the virtues of small government, saying the concerns over the nation's debt would not be answered by higher taxes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SCOTT: You could take all the revenue, all the revenue from the top 2 percent and you simply could not close the annual deficit. That's a challenge.

NAYLOR: Scott is strong conservative beliefs won his appointment praise today from right-leaning groups, including Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth. Scott will be the only black member of the Senate from either party and the first African-American Republican in three decades. At a time when the Republican Party has struggled to appeal to minority voters, this is no small thing.

Clemson University political science Professor David Woodard calls the appointment of Scott a game changer for South Carolina politics.

DAVID WOODARD: I think he represents an opportunity for conservatives to rally behind somebody who could be a national leader. And for South Carolina to be on the stage, the national leadership in the Republican Party is a good thing and I think he'll be a voice for that.

NAYLOR: Scott's appointment is expected to take effect January 3rd. He will presumably run in a special election in 2014 to fill out the remainder of DeMint's term, an election Haley says he'll fly through. Also on the ballot then, will be South Carolinas other Republican Senator Lindsay Graham and Haley herself.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.