Gov. Nikki Haleys reported short list of five finalists to succeed resigning Republican U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint includes a pair of congressmen, a one-time S.C. attorney general, a state agency chief and a former first lady.
The list, provided to The State by a source close to the governor, has a clear favorite, according to veteran S.C. political observers: Tim Scott, the Tea Party-backed congressman from North Charleston who would be the first African-American U.S. senator from the South since Reconstruction if appointed.
U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg, is considered the other most serious candidate, but the former state solicitor does not have as big an upside as Scott, experts agreed.
Former state Attorney General Henry McMaster of Columbia, a Haley supporter with political experience, generally is not seen as being as conservative as DeMint, who was willing to be the lone dissenting vote on bills to make points on fiscal issues.
The names of former first lady Jenny Sanford and S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control director Catherine Templeton both Haley backers from Charleston were included to bolster their possible future political ambitions, political observers said.
The list of names floated allows Haley to reward friends with a bit of flattery and gives her enough time to hear opinions from potential contributors to her next campaign, University of South Carolina political scientist Mark Tompkins said. You get to reassure supporters, he said.
Haley has given no timetable on replacing DeMint, who is leaving with four years remaining on his term to head the Heritage Foundation, though a decision is expected within a week.
Everybody would like to know the answer, Scott said Tuesday. We need to support the governor in whatever decision she makes.
The governor distanced herself from reports that she has a short list during a visit to North Charleston on Tuesday.
Only my husband knows whats in my head right now, so Ill leave it at that, Haley told The (Charleston) Post and Courier.
With the exception of Jenny Sanford, the names of the finalists have been mentioned frequently in political circles since DeMint announced his resignation last week. Here is what S.C. political experts have to say about the five:
U.S. Rep. Tim Scott
The 47-year-old insurance agent has won enough respect in two years in Congress to head the GOP freshman caucus and win a seat on the House Ways and Means Committee. He reportedly is DeMints pick and has received the endorsement of the American Conservative Union.
The drawbacks include his lack of experience in Congress and the loss of a spot on such an influential House committee, USCs Tompkins said.
Bottom line: Scott is the front-runner, capable of winning a special election for the Senate seat set for 2014 and beyond. He has the conservative credentials and would make history, said Bob McAlister, a media consultant who was chief of staff for then-Gov. Carroll Campbell.
What he said: I was surprised and pleased (to make the short list), but I still want to give the governor time to make a good decision. Scott said he is putting his energy into working to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. He said he has not heard from the governor but said Tuesday, for the first time publicly, that he would accept the job if offered. It would be difficult not to.