Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) will be appointed the first African-American senator from South Carolina next year, Gov. Nikki Haley (R) announced Monday.
Haley’s selection of Scott, a Tea Party favorite, delighted conservative groups that had sought a strong conservative replacement for Sen. Jim DeMint (R), who is resigning in January to lead the Heritage Foundation.
"It is with great pleasure that I am announcing that I am appointing our next U.S. senator-to-be, Congressman Tim Scott," Haley said at a press conference in Columbia, S.C.
Scott has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the GOP since being elected to the House in 2010, and was DeMint’s preferred choice to fill his seat, according to sources in South Carolina.
"I can walk away from the Senate knowing that someone is in this seat that is better than I am, that will carry that voice-of-opportunity conservatism to the whole country in a way that I couldn't do," DeMint said at the press conference.
Scott will become the first African-American senator from the Republican Party since Sen. Edward Brooke (R-Mass.) retired in the late 1970s, and the first black GOP senator from the South since Reconstruction. He will also be the only African-American senator in the next Congress.
In accepting the appointment, Scott said he has a lot to live up to.
"Sen. Jim DeMint has led in a way that few others have led," Scott said. "There's no way to fill his shoes."
Scott will serve as the appointed senator until 2014, when a special election will be held to choose a senator to serve out the remaining two years of DeMint's term. He indicated he will run for the seat, saying he looks forward to "introducing myself to citizens throughout this great state of South Carolina."
"I think two whole terms [as senator] would be fantastic," Scott said.
The other senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), praised Haley’s pick. “This is a day that’s been long in the making in South Carolina,” Graham said. “And I’m glad to see it come.”
The appointment could also prove beneficial for Graham, who is expected to receive a primary challenge from the right in 2014. Scott had been seen as a top contender, but other Republicans in the state — most notably Rep. Mick Mulvaney (S.C.) — are also said to be mulling a run.
South Carolina GOP strategist Chip Felkel said Republicans in the state might now see Scott as a more attractive target, as he'll have less name recognition and a smaller war chest than Graham.
"Are you going to challenge the guy who's a newbie or are you going to challenge the guy with more money in the bank?" Felkel said.
Haley, however, said she expects Scott to "fly through 2014."
Scott has close ties to GOP leaders in the House and comes into the seat with backing from conservative stalwarts such as the Club for Growth, Susan B. Anthony List and Americans for Tax Reform.
"Gov. Haley has made a great choice to replace a great senator. Her pick is truly a fantastic one for fiscal conservatives," said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola.
His exit from the House will leave the lower chamber without a black Republican in the 113th Congress, but gives the party a high-profile African-American voice in the upper chamber. South Carolina GOP Chairman Chad Connelly said Scott will help Republicans rebut allegations that the party lacks diversity.
"He'll be the only black American in the U.S. Senate, and [him] being from South Carolina, I think that goes a long way in opposing what the liberal narrative is about the Republican Party," he said.
But Haley insisted when announcing the appointment that Scott was chosen for his abilities, not his race.
"What I will also tell you, and it is very important to me, as a minority female, is that Congressman Scott earned this seat," she said.
Haley had initially narrowed her options to five Republicans: Scott, Rep. Trey Gowdy, former state Attorney General Henry McMaster, former state first lady Jenny Sanford and Catherine Templeton, who heads the state's Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Scott's move to the Senate opens up his House seat for a special election early next year. South Carolina Republicans are already considering contenders for the seat, and although it's a reliably Republican district, the special election will be the first open election held in the new boundaries.
Potential Republican contenders include state Sens. Tom Davis, Paul Campbell, Chip Campsen, Larry Grooms and Chip Limehouse, as well as state Rep. Peter McCoy. Sanford, too, could run for the seat, and there’s been speculation she was added to Haley’s shortlist to boost her profile.
McCoy told The Hill he was “definitely considering running,” but hadn’t made a final decision yet.
“I’ve received a bunch of phone calls and emails urging me to run for the seat,” he said.
Grooms, too, said he had received calls about running, and told The Hill he would be "praying, soul-searching and meeting with constituents" over the next few days to decide whether to launch a bid.
"I certainly have an interest in running, but the voters of the 1st congressional district will probaly have a number of choices from which to look over," he said.
Campbell also indicated an openness to running for Scott’s seat.
“I really haven’t thought much about it,” he told The Hill, adding “it's possible. Anything is possible in politics.”
Among the Democrats seen as contenders to run in Scott’s district are Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, sister of entertainer Stephen and an administrator at Clemson University; Linda Ketner, who lost a bid for the seat in 2008; and Ashley Cooper, who lost a bid for South Carolina lieutenant governor in 2010.
Cooper told The Hill that he hadn't yet given the prospect of a run serious consideration, though he’s received calls from supporters urging him to throw his hat in the ring.
"At some point, I will take some time to think about it, and whether I can be effective in this political climate. I plan to give some thought to it over the holiday," he said.