Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has made it known in South Carolina that he wants Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) to replace him in the Senate, two state Republican sources tell The Hill.
The sources, requesting anonymity to speak candidly, say Scott is DeMint's preference for the seat, though the final decision will be Gov. Nikki Haley's (R). She will appoint someone to serve in DeMint's place after he officially resigns from the Senate to take over the conservative Heritage Foundation in January. An election for the seat will then be held in 2014 for the remaining two years of the term.
A spokesman for DeMint denied that the senator has pushed Scott.
"Senator DeMint has no favorites as our state has a deep bench of conservatives," DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton said. "This is Governor Haley's decision alone and he trusts her to make a great choice."
Scott, who was first elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010, has close ties with GOP House leadership and is also well-liked by conservative groups such as Club for Growth. If chosen, he would become the first African-American Republican senator since Sen. Edward Brooke (R-Mass.) retired in the late 1970s, and the only African-American in the next Senate.
In a statement on Thursday, Scott praised DeMint for his "tremendous work" and said he's confident that Haley would appoint a worthy successor.
“Looking forward, Governor Haley will now appoint a new Senator, and I know she will make the right choice both for South Carolina and the nation.”
Sources also say Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), possibly the most conservative member of the South Carolina House delegation, had previously made it known in state GOP circles that he planned to run for DeMint's seat in 2016 if DeMint decided against running for a third term.
Mulvaney said DeMint was a "strong conservative voice" who leaves "big shoes to be filled."
“I have faith Governor Haley will appoint someone with the character, leadership, and conservatism Senator DeMint has provided South Carolinians for the past eight years. I am proud to have worked with Senator DeMint and I will continue to call him a friend and a mentor in the years to come. I wish him the best of luck as he continues fighting for the conservative cause at The Heritage Foundation,” he said in a statement.
A source close to Mulvaney said that congressman would be interested in the seat but doesn't expect to be named to it because he and Haley aren't close.
"Haley sees Mulvaney as a rival and she isn't about empowering her rivals. He'd be interested but it's never going to happen," the source said.
The source also said that Mulvaney might run for the Senate seat in 2014, but would be unlikely to do so if Scott is named to the seat because of their friendship.
Haley could also appoint a caretaker to fill the seat until the special election. Some Republicans speculated that former South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson, with whom Haley has a good relationship, could fill that role. Haley was a major backer during Dawson's failed run for chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Dawson told The Hill he'd be open to filling the seat, though he said, "The people who are going to campaign for this probably aren't going to get it."
"I love the state of South Carolina, I worked for eight years as a volunteer chairman, I'm proud of the work we've done and we've done the hard work and left the party in good shape," Dawson told The Hill. "Being a U.S. Senator is something that's very important that serves until 2014 — and then the people get to pick. We have a lot of conservative rock-stars in South Carolina. There is nobody who's ever done politics who'd rule out serving the state."
Former South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster (R), who ran against Haley in the gubernatorial primary but endorsed her in the runoff, was also mentioned as a possible placeholder by some sources.
State Rep. Ralph Norman (R), a close ally of Haley's, told The Hill that he'd "made it known to the governor and her staff" that he's "definitely interested in the job" and would run for a full term if she chose him. Norman said that he'd heard that Scott, Mulvaney and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) were also interested, and said he expects Haley to make a decision before the end of December.
The former governor could also appoint herself, though she ruled out that possibility on Thursday.
"That's not even an option," she said on a local radio show.
DeMint's resignation lessens the chances of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) facing a serious primary challenge from the right in 2014. While national conservative groups have been hoping to find someone to run against Graham, there has been notably little movement in that race.
"I guarantee the senior senator from South Carolina is smiling today," said one high-level GOP strategist in South Carolina, referring to Graham. "His possible opponents have some better options now. Do they go for an open seat or take on the hardest working candidate in South Carolina?"
— This story was last updated at 5:37 p.m.