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GOP Sen. Jim DeMint’s surprise announcement that he will resign in January set off an intense game of speculation Thursday about who will be appointed to succeed him in the South Carolina seat and the musical chairs that could follow.
Gov. Nikki R. Haley has the sole power to appoint DeMint’s successor, who will serve through the 113th Congress. A special election will be held to fill the remainder of DeMint’s term on Nov. 4, 2014 — the same day Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is on the ballot.
The name that quickly floated to the top of the prospective appointee list is Rep. Tim Scott, a conservative black Republican first elected to the House in 2010 who is beloved by the grass roots and the tea party. If appointed, he would become the first African-American senator from the Palmetto State, where about a third of the population is black. And he would be the only black senator in the chamber in the next Congress.
“I think Nikki Haley has several good options,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said. “If it’s Tim Scott, that would be great.”
While party insiders in South Carolina said Scott is the appointee privately favored by DeMint, the senator denied that. Walking out of a television interview Thursday afternoon, DeMint told CQ Roll Call that he told the governor it was her decision.
“I really love the guys in our delegation, but there are other folks, I’m sure, in the state [who] will do a great job,” he said. “One thing I’m confident of is Nikki Haley will appoint a strong movement conservative.”
The first question for Haley, a rising national GOP star who is also on the ballot in 2014, is whether to appoint a caretaker for the seat who would not run to finish out DeMint’s term. If she appoints a placeholder it would create an open-seat race in two years, likely attracting multiple ambitious conservatives. Or, it could set up her own run for Senate.
But if Scott were appointed, he would be unlikely to face a primary challenge, possibly directing conservative challengers toward Graham. It would also lead to less downballot upheaval.
“If she appoints [Scott], the musical chairs is a lot less intense in 2014,” one South Carolina GOP operative said.
Haley’s spokesman, Rob Godfrey, declined to speculate who the governor might choose.
But politics moves at light speed in the age of Twitter, and insiders were already gaming out various scenarios from Haley’s pick on down.
South Carolina GOP strategist Wesley Donehue said Scott is the obvious choice for Haley and noted that the two served together in the state legislature. Donehue added that GOP state Sen. Tom Davis is the other obvious choice.
“He’s the most ideologically similar to Jim DeMint in the entire state,” Donehue said.