By JEFF ZELENY and JENNIFER STEINHAUER
Published: December 17, 2012
WASHINGTON — Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina on Monday selected Representative Tim Scott to replace Jim DeMint in the United States Senate, an appointment that will make Mr. Scott the first black senator from the South since the late 19th century.
“It is a historic day in South Carolina,” Ms. Haley said, announcing her decision at the Capitol in Columbia with Mr. Scott at her side. She added, “He earned this seat for what I know he is going to do to make South Carolina and our country proud.”
The governor said that she chose Mr. Scott for his business vision and commitment to conservative principles. She said that he “will fly through 2014,” when he faces election to the Senate seat.
Mr. Scott, who is expected to be sworn in on Jan. 3 with the rest of the freshman class of senators, led a moment of silence for the victims of the Connecticut school shooting before he accepted the position. He praised his mother, a hard-working single woman, who he said “understood that love sometimes comes at the end of a switch.”
He offered a glimpse into his conservative fiscal philosophy, saying, “If you have a problem with spending, there’s not enough revenue to make up for it.” He noted that he had a steep learning curve ahead and praised his predecessor, saying: “There is no way to fill his shoes. There is no way to have another Jim DeMint in America.”
The governor seriously considered a number of potential contenders, particularly Jenny Sanford, the ex-wife of former Gov. Mark Sanford, who supported Ms. Haley in her race two years ago. But in choosing Mr. Scott, the governor selected a lawmaker with a strong conservative voting record during his two years in Congress.
Mr. Scott, 47, also offers a unique story and background, one that is in scant supply in the Republican Party right now. He was, by his account, a lost child who struggled with school and with life until a Chick-fil-A franchise owner took him on as a protégé and schooled him in conservative principles.
“Coming from a single-parent household and almost flunking out of high school,” Mr. Scott said in 2010, during his bid for the House, “my hope is I will take that experience and help people bring out the best that they can be.”
Before he was elected to Congress, Mr. Scott served for 13 years on the Charleston County Council and for 2 in the South Carolina House.
Although the Republicans have far fewer minorities and women in Congress than the Democrats, the party, with Monday’s announcement, will now be able to claim the only current black member of the Senate, as well as two of the three Latino senators.
Mr. DeMint disclosed this month that he would retire two years into his second Senate term to run the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group based in Washington. He attended the announcement and offered his praise to Mr. Scott.
“I can walk away from the Senate knowing that someone is in the seat who is better than I am and will carry the voice of conservatism to the whole country, which is something I couldn’t do,” Mr. DeMint said. He added, “Our country needs those positive optimistic voices.”
In Mr. Scott, Ms. Haley has chosen a lawmaker with very similar views to Mr. DeMint on all matters of public policy, from taxes to guns to social issues. He has one of the highest ratings for conservatism among House members among groups that “score” votes.
Mr. Scott, who lives in Charleston, cruised to a surprise primary victory in 2010 over Strom Thurmond’s son Paul, in part thanks to the backing of Tea Party groups. Mr. DeMint said that he favored him as his replacement.
Senator Lindsay Graham, the state’s senior senator, praised his new colleague and noted the historic nature of the moment, saying, “This is a day that has been long in the making in South Carolina.”
Mr. Scott will no doubt be missed among many of his House Republican colleagues.
“There is not a kinder, more humble, sweet-spirited person,” Representative Trey Gowdy, one of Mr. Scott’s freshman colleagues from South Carolina, who was also considered for the job, said in an interview last week. “That is somewhat antithetical to what you’d expect at this level of politics.”
Besides Ms. Sanford and Mr. Gowdy, Mr. Scott bested several other finalists, including Henry McMaster, a former attorney general, and Catherine Templeton, the state health agency director. A rush to fill Mr. Scott’s seat will now ensue, with various contenders already licking their chops.
Currently in the House, there are 43 African-Americans; over all, there have been 133 black members of Congress, and only 5 have been elected to the Senate, while 1 was appointed.
Among those members, there have been 29 black Republicans, 3 of them in the Senate.
“This is a proud moment for both Tim and for South Carolina,” Jeff Duncan, a fellow South Carolina freshman, said in a statement, “and his arrival in the Senate couldn’t have happened at a more pivotal time. With Tim’s appointment, South Carolina’s federal delegation will continue to be the most collaborative and team-oriented delegation in the country. I’m looking forward to working with him to champion the cause of defending the Constitution, and advocating for limited government, free markets and individual liberties.”