Senator Jim DeMint’s (R-SC) abrupt resignation opens a seat in the upper chamber for a Palmetto State Republican to win a huge promotion.
South Carolina election law gives the state’s governor, in this case Republican Nikki Haley, the ability to appoint someone to fill DeMint’s seat after he officially resigns in January for the next two years. A special election will be held in November 2014 to determine who will serve the the final two years of DeMint’s remaining four year term.
Senior South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is also up for reelection in 2014. DeMint’s resignation likely comes as good news to Graham, who was all but guaranteed to face a stiff primary in 2014 over his positions on issues such energy policy and immigration reform. Conservatives in the state could opt to put their focus on chasing DeMint’s seat in 2014 rather than ousting Graham.
Scott, a Tea Party Republican first elected to Congress in 2010, would be the first African-American Republican to serve in the Senate since Edward William Brooke III of Massachusetts left office in 1980. (The last African-American to serve in the Senate, Roland Burris of Illinois, left the Senate in 2010. He was appointed in 2009 to replace then-Senator Barack Obama after his election to President.)
In a statement released this morning, Scott commented that DeMint’s “commitment to conservative principles leaves a true legacy” and that he believes Governor Haley “will make the right choice both for South Carolina and the nation” in choosing DeMint’s replacement.
Scott is not the only House member believed to be interested in the seat. Fellow freshman Rep. Mick Mulvaney has long coveted a seat in Congress’ upper chamber, and was believed to consider running when DeMint left office in 2016.
“Senator DeMint has been a strong conservative voice, and he leaves big shoes to be filled…I am proud to have worked with Senator DeMint and I will continue to call him a friend and a mentor in the years to come,” Mulvaney said in a press release earlier today.
If either Scott or Mulvaney were to accept an appointment to serve in the Senate it would set off a special election for his seat in the House of Representatives.
Another possible option is for Governor Haley to appoint a placeholder rather than a long-term successor. According to The Hill some Republicans believe that Haley could choose former South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson, a close friend, to serve until the 2014 election.
“Being a U.S. Senator is something that’s very important that serves until 2014 – and then the people get to pick,” Dawson told The Hill earlier today. “We have a lot of conservative rock-stars in South Carolina. There is nobody who’s ever done politics who’d rule out serving the state.”
The Washington Post also names former Attorney General Henry McMaster and former Ambassador David Wilkins as others whom Haley can choose for the seat. McMaster ran for governor in 2010, but lost to Haley in the primary. After the primary, McMaster became a surrogate for Haley and helped raise money for her successful gubernatorial campaign. McMaster is also a former chair of the South Carolina Republican Party.
Either way, the future of South Carolina’s representation in Washington now lies in the hands of one individual – Nikki Haley.
This piece has been updated to include additional information.
Francesca Chambers and Lauren Luxenburg contributed to this report.