South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s (R) visit to the Charleston area yesterday did not result in her naming a replacement for outgoing Sen. Jim DeMint (R) as some thought it might, but reports from her office suggest that her short list contains five names.
Top Choice: Rep. Tim Scott
Most believe the leading contender is freshman Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC-1), who won a big re-election in November and was subsequently appointed to the House Ways & Means Committee. Aside from being a capable replacement for DeMint, Rep. Scott scores political points for the governor in several ways. Haley is standing for re-election in 2014 with upside down approval ratings, and along comes a new Public Policy Polling survey (Dec. 7-9; 520 registered South Carolina voters) that posts her two points behind (44-46 percent) the man she defeated in 2010, Democratic state Sen. Vincent Shaheen. This tells us that the governor needs political strengthening.
Among other benefits, the Scott appointment would allow her to take credit for appointing the first African-American senator in the state’s post-Reconstruction history. Secondly, since Scott enjoys strong support from South Carolina’s Tea Party movement, selecting him would help Haley with the very group that could bring forth a challenger against her in the Republican primary. Third, by appointing the Charleston area congressman, she can restore the Upcountry/Low Country balance that the state traditionally featured. Both current senators, DeMint and Lindsey Graham (R), are from the northwestern sector of the state. Thus, she could theoretically increase her Charleston area support with this move. Fourth, Haley would gain kudos from national conservatives who are also pushing Scott for the appointment, possibly including Sen. DeMint himself. Though he claims not to be lobbying for anyone, most observers believe that the outgoing incumbent favors Rep. Scott as his successor.
The Remaining Four Options
Others on what is believed to be her short list of contenders are Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC-4), state cabinet officer Catherine Templeton, former Attorney General Henry McMaster (R), and Jenny Sanford, the state’s former First Lady, who handled herself so positively during her husband’s — former Gov. Mark Sanford — nationally publicized extra-marital affair.
Rep. Gowdy, also a freshman who just won a big re-election, brings little to the table for Haley. Though conservative, he represents DeMint’s former congressional district, so he fails to bring any geographic balance. He is unknown outside of the Greenville-Spartanburg region, so it’s difficult to see how the governor improves her own standing through his appointment.
Templeton is a confidant of the governor who already has received appointments to a pair of statewide cabinet posts. She currently is in charge of the South Carolina Department of Health. She hails from the Charleston area, thus bringing geographical balance but has little in the way of a political base. Furthermore, Templeton has no legislative experience, so starting her career as a legislator in the United States Senate will require a rather large learning curve that could put her well behind in preparing for a statewide election. This could make her vulnerable in what would likely transform itself into a messy primary confrontation — something Haley will certainly want to avoid.
McMaster is a former two-term attorney general and chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. He ran against Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings (D-SC) in 1986, and for governor against Haley, herself, in 2010. McMaster finished a distant third in the gubernatorial primary contest, failing to secure the second run-off position. That fell to Rep. Gresham Barrett (R-SC-3), who Haley defeated in a landslide. McMaster, from Columbia, does not appear to be a good fit for Haley, but including him on her short list does throw a bone to the state’s Republican establishment.
Jenny Sanford is a popular figure with obviously high name identification. She, too, is from Charleston and highly identified with the city, since she maintained the family home there instead of moving to the Governor’s Mansion in Columbia when her husband was elected. Sanford is not closing the door on accepting the appointment, saying she is “honored” to be considered. What is probably more likely than her being appointed to the Senate is running in the special election for the 1st Congressional District – her husband’s former House seat – should Scott receive the appointment.
The Likely Outcome
The prevailing political winds point toward Gov. Haley appointing Rep. Scott. Expect this action to occur immediately upon Sen. DeMint’s official resignation. All of the prospective candidates on this list would be competent Senators for the state, so making a credible selection is not an issue. Since Scott is the best political pick, and the governor needs a political boost, the odds are strong that she will soon turn in his direction.