First Black Republican Since Watts Headed to D.C.

Posted June 22, 2010 at 8:46pm

Updated: June 22, 10:16 p.m.

South Carolina state Rep. Tim Scott is on his way to becoming the first black Republican to serve in Congress since Rep. J.C. Watts (Okla.) left in 2002, after winning a landslide victory in a Tuesday runoff.

With almost all the votes counted, Scott handily defeated Charleston County Councilman Paul Thurmond 69 percent to 31 percent. Thurmond is the son of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), and Scott even beat Paul Thurmond in his home base in Charleston County.

Scott is heavily favored to win the safely Republican Charleston-based 1st district in November, and national Republicans are openly excited about the prospect of adding some diversity to the party’s Congressional delegation.

Scott dropped his bid for lieutenant governor earlier this year to run in the 1st district after Rep. Henry Brown (R) announced his plans to retire at the end of his term.

In a race in which he was running against the son of the state’s legendary late Senator and the son of former South Carolina Gov. Carroll Campbell, Scott entered the contest with a name identification disadvantage. But Scott earned an early endorsement from the powerful anti-tax group Club for Growth and soon became a favorite of national party leaders including House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and National Republican Congressional Committee Vice Chairman Kevin McCarthy (Calif.).

Scott came in first in the nine-way primary in the 1st district on June 8 by finishing 16 points ahead of Thurmond.

In the short sprint to the runoff, Thurmond was endorsed by a handful of the other primary candidates, including third-place finisher Carroll Campbell III. But Scott’s list of big-name endorsements quickly expanded. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) announced his endorsement of Scott, as did former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R).

In other runoff results Tuesday, state Rep. Jeff Duncan narrowly secured the GOP nomination in South Carolina’s 3rd district after a vigorous challenge by businessman Richard Cash.

Duncan edged Cash 52 percent to 49 percent, with 100 percent of precincts reporting.

With a long list of state and local leaders behind him and powerful national endorsements from groups such as the Club for Growth, Duncan had long been expected to be a part of Tuesday’s runoff. But he entered the contest in a precarious position after finishing second in the June 8 primary.

Cash wasn’t on many political radar screens before he beat Duncan, another state legislator, a self-funder and two others to take first place by 2 points on primary night. Cash, an anti-abortion-rights activist, built his campaign around a strong grass-roots organization in western South Carolina’s evangelical community.

As he did in the initial round of voting, Cash turned in a very strong showing in his base in heavily populated Anderson County, but Duncan made up the difference in other high-population areas, including Aiken and Laurens counties.

Duncan is expected to cruise to victory in November in the 3rd district, which heavily tilted toward Republicans.

Duncan’s victory was the second primary win of the night for the Club for Growth, which invested more than $700,000 in two races in South Carolina between Member contributions and independent expenditures.