The GOP does a delicate dance on race, the state's delegation closes ranks around Lindsey Graham, and Jim DeMint tries to consolidate a legacy.
The Palmetto State has a new senator. At noon on Monday, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley announced that she will appoint Tim Scott, a representative from Charleston, to the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Jim DeMint, who will become president of the Heritage Foundation. The appointment isn't a huge surprise: Various outlets, including this one, named Scott as a leading contender almost immediately upon DeMint's announcement, and the senator made it known that he favored Scott as his replacement. DeMint is expected to formally resign January 3. Scott will then serve until 2014, when he'll have to run in a special election to serve the remainder of DeMint's term; and then, assuming he wins, again in 2016 for a full, six-year term.
Though the decision was expected, the press conference in Columbia, S.C., tells us a lot about the GOP, South Carolina, and the future of the Senate. Here are the three biggest takeaways.
1. An Uncomfortable Dance on Race: Tim Scott is making history several times over: He will be the first southern black senator from the GOP since Reconstruction; the first black Republican senator since Edward Brooke of Massachusetts lost in 1978; and the only currently serving black senator. (Your shocking fact for the day: Brooke remains the only black senator to ever be reelected.) Scott's departure from the House of Representatives means that body will have no black Republican members. But Scott has long resisted being defined by his race, even as he's notched milestones, and his party remains implacably opposed to affirmative action. He works hard to speak in terms that would have come just as easily to senators like Strom Thurmond and Fritz Hollings. "I'm just a country boy trying to take care of the country," he told me in 2011.
So today, Haley, Scott, and members of the South Carolina congressional delegation did a delicate dance. While Haley celebrated the fact that Scott's appointment made Monday a "historic day in South Carolina," she took great pains to add, "It is very important to me as a minority female, that Congressman Scott earned this seat. He earned this seat for the results he has shown." The GOP understandably wants to celebrate its diversity -- a black senator being appointed by an Indian-American female governor, no less -- but wants to avoid the appearance that Scott's appointment carries any whiff of affirmative action.
2. Lots of Love for Lindsey Graham: One of the quirks of the DeMint resignation is it means there will be two separate U.S. Senate elections in South Carolina in 2014, something that's only happened 49 times before in the nation's history. Conventional wisdom says this is good for Lindsey Graham (no relation to the author), who has been criticized for willingness to work across the aisle, because it means he may not face the strongest challenger. At the Columbia press conference, there was lots of love for the state's senior senator. He stood at Haley's right, with Scott on the left. Scott, after praising the man he will replace, had many kind words for Graham, saying he looked forward to serving alongside him and learning about foreign affairs from him. Next up was DeMint, who is well to Graham's right and has clashed with him repeatedly over the years. "Senator Graham has been a good partner to me," DeMint enthused. "We've worked real well together and he's a great senator. He's done a great job on so many different issues. I've been proud to serve with him and I'll be proud to work with him from my perch at the Heritage Foundation."