DeMint's departure from U.S. Senate opens door to intrigue in South Carolina
COLUMBIA, S.C. — In South Carolina, a reliably Republican state that nevertheless produces some of the country's most intense political battles, the resignation of GOP Sen. Jim DeMint on Thursday means the 2014 GOP campaign season started in 2012.
That's because DeMint's departure to lead The Heritage Foundation opens a once-in-a-generation opportunity: the governor's office and both Senate seats — all three of South Carolina's brass rings — will be on the ballot at once.
The first step in that long campaign will be for Gov. Nikki Haley to appoint someone to fill DeMint's seat — either a placeholder who would step aside in 2014 or a real live candidate, who would then have a leg up on rivals.
Here in the capital, at least the first stage of the scrum was polite.
Haley issued a statement on Friday, saying she would make her decision “quickly” and would not engineer a way to take the seat herself.
“Appointing a new member of the U.S. Senate is a solemn duty, and I take this responsibility with utmost seriousness,” Haley said. “I will make this decision in a manner that is thoughtful and dignified, but also quickly. ... I will appoint a person who has the same philosophy of government that Jim DeMint and I share.”
So far, DeMint's open seat has attracted interest from a farcical candidate — TV's fake pundit Stephen Colbert, a South Carolina native who asked viewers to badger Haley on Twitter to appoint him.
And it drew moderate interest from a onetime national punchline: former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who sneaked away from his state to meet a paramour in Buenos Aires while supposedly “hiking on the Appalachian Trail.”
Sanford told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday that former supporters had suggested he re-enter politics and seek the seat. “It's not a ‘no,' but it's not a ‘yes,'” Sanford told the Journal.
On Thursday, some people said DeMint had privately supported Rep. Tim Scott, a first-term legislator from the state's coast who has built a national following among conservatives. If Haley appoints Scott, he would make a startling kind of history: the Senate's only black member would be a Republican from the state where the Civil War began.
Later that day, however, another aide said DeMint had no favorites.
If DeMint's seat goes to a caretaker, then South Carolina's primary in 2014 could become a giant Republican brawl — perhaps drawing away Tea Party challengers who might have focused efforts on defeating longtime GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, who sometimes bucks conservatives.
Mark Tompkins, a politics professor at the University of South Carolina, said this outcome might be the best one for Haley's political future.
“There's a sort of musical-chairs quality to it,” Tompkins said. By contrast, he said, “if she puts Scott in the Senate, then her re-election campaign is one of the obvious targets for all these ambitious folks.”
“I come away still thinking the caretaker option — if she's just [thinking of] her own future — makes more sense,” Tompkins said.
That could also leave Haley free to seek the seat or to challenge Graham for his seat from the right.
Whatever happens in 2014, there's a good chance for ugliness.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Offense awakens to lead Steelers past Panthers
- Rossi: State of NFL gives Steelers a chance
- Port Authority bus drives over embankment; driver only one aboard
- Balancing gas pipeline expansion, environmental unease a problem in Pa.
- Penguins forward Megna’s skill set might be perfect fit
- Steelers notebook: Rooney says owners support Goodell
- Extras sought for Will Smith movie filming in Pittsburgh
- Game changers: Turnover leads to elusive TD for Steelers
- Pirates notebook: Bucs set single-season attendance record
- Penguins notebook: Carcillo hopes to give team physical edge
- Judge urges feds, EDMC to settle dispute