South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley announced her choice to replace departing Sen. Jim DeMint — Rep. Tim Scott. Elected to Congress in 2010, Rep. Scott was “the first black congressional Republican from the Deep South since Reconstruction,” reports The Washington Post.
Sen. DeMint is leaving his post to lead The Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank. He was elected to the office in 2004 and had said he had no intentions of running for re-election in 2016. DeMint is a Tea Party favorite and has stated his belief that the new position will be “a vehicle to popularize conservative ideas in a way that connects with a broader public,” The Wall Street Journal reports. He was known for bumping heads with leaders of the Republican party. He officially steps down on January 1.
From the beginning, Rep. Scott was the favorite to step up to the position. Born in 1965, he was raised by a single mother. He first ran for office in Charleston, SC after graduating from college and running a real estate company (note WaPo‘s biographical detail about his beginnings with a mentor). His election to the Charleston City Council in 1995 was enough to thwart a lawsuit asserting that the city violated the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
He won his seat in Congress by defeating Paul Thurmond, son of 1948 segregationist candidate for President, Strom Thurmond. He declined to join the Congressional Black Caucus, saying that he appreciated the invite but his “campaign was never about race,” The Washington Post says.
Even if it isn’t about race for him, it is very much for the Republicans. When he takes his spot in the Senate, Scott will be “the first black Republican senator since Edward Brooke of Massachusetts lost in 1978; and the only currently serving black senator,” The Atlantic reports. “(Your shocking fact for the day: Brooke remains the only black senator to ever be reelected.),” the magazine continues. After he leaves the House, there will be no black Republicans in the Congressional body. Republicans struggled throughout the election cycle to reach black voters and other minority groups. So even as they oppose policies like affirmative action and certain elements of immigration reform, and (as Gov. Haley did yesterday) as they take pains to express that their sole concern is choosing the most qualified person, Republicans would also like to add a few diverse faces to their ranks. With demographic trends showing minority groups will have growing influence in future elections, the GOP has a vested interest in appealing more strongly to minority groups.
“Other Republicans insist that the candidates are a first step — that they are taking — and that having as many high-profile non-white faces will allow them to speak to minority voters on a core level that they have struggled to do in the past,” says a separate WaPo story. Hmm… Don’t think so. It’s not just what a politician looks like, but what they support.