COLUMBIA, S.C. — Strom Thurmond’s 1964 switch to the Republican Party helped make the GOP in vogue in South Carolina, prompting white conservatives to flock to the Grand Old Party. Now, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, the state’s first African-American senator, could help expand the party again, attracting minority voters, some conservatives say.
Scott was appointed to the Senate in December 2012, when U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint resigned to run the Heritage Foundation. Scott now faces his first statewide race, a November special election to fill the balance of DeMint’s unexpired term.
While Lindsey Graham, South Carolina’s other Republican U.S. senator, is besieged by GOP primary opponents, Scott faces no Republican challenge in June. However, two Democrats have launched campaigns for Scott’s seat: Rick Wade, a former South Carolina Cabinet director, U.S. Commerce Department official and adviser to Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns; and Richland County Councilwoman Joyce Dickerson.
If Scott wins the November contest and then again in 2016, he would become a “national symbol for conservative values in the black community, and he will begin to force a re alignment” of African-American voters with the GOP, said Clemson University professor Dave Woodard, a Republican consultant.
Scott’s successes would make it easier for African-Americans who do not agree with the Democratic Party’s positions on social issues – including abortion and gay marriage – to shift to the GOP, Woodard said.
State Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson, R-Richland, said Scott’s continued presence as one of 100 U.S. senators would give him “automatic credibility” and help the GOP appeal to minorities in the state and nationally.
But not everyone thinks a Scott win would result in an exodus of African-Americans to the Republican Party.