Myrtle Beach, S.C. — Tim Scott, the newest member of the U.S. Senate, got a hero’s welcome from the groups meeting here for the South Carolina Tea Party Convention this weekend. Scott, who replaced Jim DeMint as South Carolina’s junior senator this month, has had a meteoric rise in politics. Five years ago he was a member of Charleston’s city council. Since then he has won a seat in the state legislature, and in 2010, he became the first African-American Republican elected to the House from a Deep South state in decades.
Scott knows the cadences of Sunday preaching well. He has boiled down his message into sound bites that express support for free markets and traditional values, and opposition to all tax increases — all views that are “nothing more than common sense,” he said. When he asked his audience on Sunday what his platform represented, he wasn’t satisfied with the chorus that answered “common sense.” “I can’t hear you,” he exclaimed. The crowd shouted louder, and he spread out his arms and yelled back, “It’s just common sense!”
This Sunday was special to Scott because, he said, “I have the privilege of speaking to both the NAACP and the Tea Party in the same day.” “I love civil rights,” he told the crowd. Then he flashed an impish grin and added, “I just want civil rights for everybody.” With just a few words, Scott instantly bonded with his almost entirely white audience, sending the message “I know you’re not racist, your positions are valid, and it’s the other side that plays favorites.”
Scott finished his brief talk with another message sure to motivate the base: “By the way, I’ll say this to President Obama. You can’t use an executive order to amend the Second Amendment on guns.” The crowd went wild and gave him a standing ovation.
The other highlight of this year’s South Carolina Tea Party Convention was the behind-the-scenes maneuvering over who will fill Scott’s congressional seat. His new district stretches from north of touristy Charleston down the coast to include Hilton Head, a haven of upper-income retirees. The district includes several Navy facilities as well as the famous new Boeing aircraft plant that the Obama White House initially claimed was being built in violation of labor laws because Boeing was locating it in a right-to-work state.
The race to replace Scott is proceeding at lightning speed. The two major parties will hold primaries on March 19, with a runoff election April 2 in the event that one or both primaries fails to produce a majority winner. The general election strongly favors a Republican, but Barack Obama carried Charleston, the largest county in the district, twice. That means that under the right set of circumstances, a moderate Democrat might have a chance.
Democrats believe the most favorable circumstance for them would be a political comeback by former Republican governor Mark Sanford. Sanford, who represented the area in the House between 1995 and 2003, would start the race for the GOP nomination with the most name recognition and well over $500,000 sitting in old political accounts. With Charleston television costing about $75,000 a week for a full slate of ads, Sanford’s money would give him a head start.