The next U.S. senator from South Carolina can run for the office in a 2014 special election after Gov. Nikki Haley said Monday she would not appoint a placeholder to succeed the resigning Jim DeMint.
The move means the first-term Republican governor plans to choose a senator who can hold the seat for years to come.
“Someone is going to get a head start on 2014,” said Warren Tompkins of Columbia, a veteran S.C. GOP political consultant who has advised DeMint.
While TV satirist Stephen Colbert is the top candidate to replace DeMint, according to a poll released Monday, the presumed front-runner, U.S. Rep. Tim Scott of North Charleston, said he has not spoken to Haley or her staff about DeMint’s post.
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Scott said he has no plans to meet with the governor when she comes to his Charleston-area district today to tour Boeing’s jet plant. Scott will be leaving for Washington about the same time the Boeing tour starts.
Scott would not say whether he would accept the appointment if offered, but added he has received many calls encouraging him to make a pitch to the governor. “Certainly, there is a lot of interest out there,” he said.
Scott, whom DeMint reportedly favored when he announced his resignation last week to head the Heritage Foundation, would be the first black U.S. senator from the South since Reconstruction if appointed.
“He could be the new national face of South Carolina,” said GOP political consultant Richard Quinn of Columbia.
Scott, 47, had no opinion on Haley’s decision to not appoint a senator who would hold the seat only until the 2014 election, except to say that — in addition to her declining to appoint herself — it was another step toward making a decision before Christmas.
Appointing a successor soon could help the state.
If Haley names a replacement before Jan. 3 and DeMint steps down, the new senator would have more seniority than the 12 new senators to be sworn in that day. DeMint ranks 53rd among the 100 senators in seniority. “We’ll have someone out ahead of that pack,” Tompkins said.
Haley won praise from S.C. political experts for avoiding a placeholder senator, who would have agreed not to run for the seat in 2014.
The governor said she did not want to “tie the hands” of her appointee about running for office.
“I do not want to deprive our state’s citizens of the chance to render their judgment on the appointee’s performance by way of their vote,” Haley said in a statement. “Most importantly, while I am an avid supporter of term limits, I do not want the effectiveness of our state’s new U.S. senator to be undermined by the fact that he or she will automatically be leaving the office such a very short time after assuming it.”
Haley’s decision appears to open the door for Scott. Other candidates for the permanent post mentioned most frequently are U.S. Reps. Mick Mulvaney of Indian Land and Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg. Both, like Scott, are Republicans who won second terms in November.
The widely favored placeholder candidate was former S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster of Columbia, who backed Haley after losing to her in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary.
McMaster, 65, declined comment Monday before a meeting of an ethics-reform commission appointed by the governor that he co-chairs. Former U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins of Greenville also has been mentioned as a placeholder.
Quinn, a former consultant to McMaster, thinks the former attorney general could still win the appointment from Haley.
“I don’t think that (announcement) ruled anybody out,” he said. “We have a deep bench of talented conservative Republican who could be in the seat for 30-35 years.”
Meanwhile, voters have rather nontraditional preferences to succeed DeMint.
Colbert was the top potential replacement among nine choices — including members of the S.C. congressional delegation, former Gov. Mark Sanford and his ex-wife, Jenny, according to a poll by Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling.
Scott and Gowdy followed Charleston native Colbert, who hosts “The Colbert Show,” in the poll taken over the weekend.
Jenny Sanford was fourth, but she would be the first choice among voters if Colbert were not an option. Scott would be second, followed by McMaster.
If neither Colbert nor the Sanfords were offered as options, Scott won the nod over McMaster and Gowdy.
Mulvaney, considered the second favorite for the Senate among political observers, finished at or near the bottom of the poll of potential DeMint replacements. U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, famous for shouting “You lie” during a 2009 speech by President Barack Obama, polled better than Mulvaney in all scenarios.
Colbert’s interest in the seat was shot down playfully last week by Haley, who cited his not knowing the state beverage — milk — in their TV interview this spring.
Jenny Sanford has said she would not rule out running for Scott’s 1st District congressional seat if he were appointed to the Senate. Mark Sanford has said he might be interested in running for DeMint’s seat in 2014.
But the former two-term governor would need to convince voters to forgive his affair with an Argentinian woman that damaged his last 1½ years in office and ended his marriage.
Sanford, now engaged to Maria Chapur, had only a 30 percent favorable rating among voters, the poll found. More than half of voters had an unfavorable opinion of the former governor. None of the other eight DeMint replacement candidates got a thumbs down from more than 35 percent of voters.
On the other hand, Jenny Sanford garnered a 44 percent favorability rating with only a 25 percent unfavorable mark.
Public Policy, a Democratic-leaning polling firm, surveyed 520 S.C. voters from Friday through Sunday. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 4.3 percent.