BY MARY ORNDORFF TROYAN
Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Republican Rep. Tim Scott should face little or no GOP opposition when he runs to keep his Senate seat in 2014 after his appointment as Sen. Jim DeMint's replacement expires, political insiders say.
They note that Scott, who will be the state's first black senator when he replaces DeMint in January, has received a flurry of endorsements since his appointment and will have a pro-business, socially conservative record to run on in 2014.
South Carolina Republicans appear eager to clear the decks for Scott when he goes before voters statewide 18 months after taking office.
Gov. Nikki Haley had said after DeMint announced he would retire to run a conservative think tank that she would appoint a replacement capable of holding the Senate seat for the long term. That will require winning in 2014 and again in 2016.
'"I knew he was the right person," Haley said Monday when she tapped Scott. "I have no doubt that he will fly through 2014."
Since his appointment, Republicans and conservatives in South Carolina and Washington have showered Scott with the kind of accolades that should scare off any potential GOP challengers.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called Scott a "solid conservative" who will "help us find real, lasting solutions to the economic challenges facing our nation."
South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Chad Connelly said the party looks forward to Scott "carrying Sen. Jim DeMint's torch of conservative leadership."
Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, which advocates for lower taxes and smaller government, said Scott "will be a leading voice to advance the principles of individual freedom and limited government."
Every Republican in the South Carolina congressional delegation, including DeMint and Sen. Lindsey Graham, also gave their blessings to Scott's appointment.
Such support suggests Scott will have considerable political firepower and fundraising assistance to tap in 2014. He was last elected in 2010 as the congressman for the 1st District along the state's southern coastline.
"He'll be fine in 2014," said Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee. "If he stays true to servant leadership and if he addresses the nation's concerns and the concerns of the people of South Carolina, and does so in a way that he is being effective in that cause, than they will give him the full mandate to serve."
The historic nature of Scott's appointment - he'll be in the only black senator and the first black Republican senator from the Deep South since Reconstruction - is another deterrent for challengers, said Chip Felkel, a Republican political consultant in Greenville.
Throw in Scott's solid conservative credentials and the balance that will come from having one senator from Upstate and one from the Low Country, and Scott appears safe, Felkel said.
"I can't think of anyone off the top of my head that would legitimately be a primary challenger for him under those circumstances," he said.
Scott's job performance, starting with any high-stakes votes in January involving tax increases and spending cuts, also will be a factor.
Scott has been a renegade member of the House Republican Caucus and has at times defied party leaders, even when the country's credit rating was at stake. But voting as part of the majority in the 435-member House is different from voting as part of the minority in the 100-member Senate. One of Scott's first tests will be how he navigates that switch.
"I'm sure he'll be judged by how well he does right out of the box on these financial issues," said Dave Woodard, a political science professor at Clemson University. "If he comes back from D.C. with conservative votes that are in line with the principles that South Carolina wants, he'll have no trouble getting elected. The problem will be if he doesn't do that."
Scott said he would consider limiting himself to two full Senate terms, which are six years each. That means he would retire in January 2029.
"But I better win the first one, or the second one doesn't matter much," Scott said.