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Who is Tim Scott? Black senator-to-be should make tea party proud

Rep. Tim Scott has been appointed to the seat held by retiring Sen. Jim DeMint. As a Republican African-American, Scott is a historic choice — and one likely to please the tea party.

Rep. Tim Scott (R) of South Carolina continued his rapid political ascent Monday, with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley elevating the first-term congressman to a seat in the US Senate.

In taking the post, Representative Scott is set to become the first African-American Republican to serve in the US Senate since 1978 — and only the third since 1881.

He will have big shoes to fill within the conservative movement. Scott shared the stage at the state capitol in Charleston Monday with the man he will replace in January, Sen. Jim DeMint (R), who is leaving the Senate to head the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. In his seven years in the Senate, Mr. DeMint arguably did more than any other elected official to establish the tea party on Capitol Hill by stumping (and fundraising) for deeply conservative politicians across the country.

Conservatives are optimistic that Scott will continue to carry that standard.

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“Congressman Scott is a fighter for limited government and pro-growth policies in Washington, and we can’t wait to see him in the Senate,” said Chris Chocola, president of the fiscally conservative Club for Growth, a group that supported Scott from his GOP primary days.  

On Monday, Scott sounded a confident note.

“Our nation finds itself in a situation where we need some backbone,” Scott said. “We need to make very difficult decisions.”

Scott would have been the only African-American Republican in the House in 2013. Two years ago, he defeated the son of former Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) of South Carolina — the man who lead the Republican Party’s resistance to integration — in a Republican primary for his staunchly conservative district including north Charleston and Myrtle Beach.

Upon landing in the House, he was immediately raised into party leadership, where he helped House leaders work the rank-and-file on tough votes as a deputy whip. But he kept to his principles on key issues, such as raising the debt ceiling (he voted against it). His voting record provided evidence that his DeMint-esque rhetoric about taxing and spending was no joke.

Scott achieved a 92 percent score on the Club for Growth’s legislative scorecard, which meant that he was more conservative than all but 30 members of the House.

As soon as DeMint announced earlier this month that he would retire from the Senate, speculation centered on Scott as the likely heir apparent.

“I could not be happier today,” DeMint said, “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 I couldn’t do.”

Scott will serve until a special election in 2014, and said he would likely serve a maximum of two terms after that. Governor Haley, also a Republican, expressed “no doubt” that Scott would win his reelection in 2014.

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And it was Haley — herself the daughter of Indian immigrants — who took up the question of Scott’s race most directly. She argued that the lesson of Scott’s appointment for the Republican Party at large is “the answer to winning elections is never about the messenger, it’s never about what the messenger looks like… it’s about the message.”

In that regard, Haley said, “Congressman Scott earned this seat for the person that he is, he earned this seat for the results he has shown, he has earned this seat for what I know he is going to do by making South Carolina and this country proud.”

Scott joked that he would be putting many more miles on his car traversing the state to introduce himself to his new constituents ahead of his 2014 election campaign.

He won’t be the only South Carolina senator doing so. By Scott’s side throughout his remarks was South Carolina’s senior senator, Lindsey Graham, a man whose pursuit of compromise on issues including taxes and immigration has made him a potential target for a primary challenge from the right in 2014.

Graham exchanged kind words with all the South Carolina notables and most of the state’s congressional delegation, several of whom are rumored to be mulling a run against Graham, and offered up some advice to his soon-to-be colleague.

“You got here by being Tim Scott – not Lindsay Graham, not Jim DeMint,” Senator Graham said. “You have a unique opportunity for the conservative cause. You have unique burdens.”