Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Scott will become South Carolina's first African-American U.S. senator after he was chosen Monday by Gov. Nikki Haley to fill Jim DeMint's soon-to-be-vacated seat.
The novelty of Scott's appointment, however, was not what the governor and congressman from North Charleston said mattered most to them.
"I understand we made history today. And I am proud that we made history today," Haley said. "As the daughter of Indian immigrants ... I want to remind everybody that it is not the messenger. It will always be the message."
Scott, 47, said, while "there is no way to have another Jim DeMint in America," he would try to uphold the Greenville senator's conservative ideals when he takes office Jan. 3. DeMint is leaving with four years to go in his second six-year Senate term to become the head of the Heritage Foundation think tank.
Scott's voting record ranks slightly below DeMint's in scorecards kept by a pair of conservative groups, the Club for Growth and Heritage Action. Among the issues the two Republicans have differed on was keeping open a federally subsidized bank that provides government loans to exporters. Despite that difference, Scott said, "Philosophically we're on same page."
S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said he expects Scott to help more with S.C. economic-development projects than DeMint. "He'll be a little easier to talk to," Harrell said of Scott.
Still, Harrell said DeMint assisted the state in other ways and praised his hard-line fiscal stances.
Haley said she selected Scott because of his record of bringing jobs to the state (helping lure a Boeing aircraft plant to North Charleston) and defending South Carolina's economic interests (helping win federal money to dredge the Port of Charleston).
Scott, who ran for Congress in 2010 promising to serve just four two-year terms, said he likely will hold the Senate seat for two full six-year terms. He also plans to run in a 2014 special election to fill the final two years of DeMint's term.
'NEED TO HAVE SOME BACKBONE'
Scott was seen as the frontrunner to succeed DeMint from the moment the senator announced his plans to resign on Dec. 6. Scott's conservative credentials -- he was backed by the Tea Party -- and the history-making aspects of his appointment appealed to Republicans, looking to diversify the GOP and add minority voters.
Haley considered five finalists to succeed DeMint. But she only interviewed Scott on Sunday, after she reviewed the records, statements and positions of other finalists, the governor's office said. She offered him the job after their interview at the Governor's Mansion.
Two other finalists for the post -- former S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster of Columbia and former S.C. first lady Jenny Sanford of Charleston -- told newspapers they never heard from Haley until Sunday night, when she called to say they would not get the appointment.
McMaster, who like Sanford supported Haley during her 2010 gubernatorial campaign, said Scott would make an excellent senator. "He's a level-headed thinker who has the respect of everyone," McMaster said. "No one gets mad at Tim Scott."
The other finalists were U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg, and state environmental agency head Catherine Templeton of Charleston.
Scott moves into the Senate as lawmakers and the White House wrestle over the fiscal cliff that could lead to more than $100 billion in automatic budget cuts on Jan. 1.
Scott said Monday that boosting taxes on the top 2 percent of taxpayers, a move favored by Democrats and opposed by budget hawks like DeMint, will not fix the country's deficit woes.
"We need to have some backbone. We need to make some difficult decisions," Scott said. "We have a spending problem in America and not a revenue problem."
DeMint, who attended the announcement Monday at the State House with several other state congressmen, said he "could not be happier today" about Scott's appointment.
"I can walk away from the Senate knowing someone is in this seat that is better than I am (and who) will carry the voice of opportunity conservatism to the whole country in a way that I couldn't do," DeMint said.
DeMint said he has worked to change the makeup of the Senate, electing more conservatives. "It's slow -- two steps forward and one step back."
DeMint also thanked fellow U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who he called a great partner, adding the two sometimes swapped between being the good guy and the bad guy on issues.
Graham examined DeMint's career by explaining how he became known as "Senator No" in political circles. "Jim felt that the county was not going to change without somebody making it change," Graham said. "It was out of a sense a frustration that you had to do things almost by yourself.
"I'm here to tell you, you changed things, and we appreciate the hell out of it," Graham told DeMint. "Together, we were able to put South Carolina on the map, whether we wanted to or not."
'EARNED HIS SEAT'
Scott is the first black U.S. senator from the South since Blanche Bruce of Mississippi in 1881. He will be the seventh African-American to serve in the Senate.
"While we don't see eye-to-eye on most political issues ... the historic nature of this appointment is not lost on me," said U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, an African-American who is South Carolina's only Democratic congressman. "I am confident Tim Scott will represent South Carolina and the country honorably."
Haley was quick to say race did not play a factor in her decision.
"It is very important to me as a minority female that Congressman Scott earned this seat," Haley said. "He earned this seat for the person that he is. He has earned this seat for the results he has shown."
Scott chaired the GOP Freshman Caucus when he was elected to Congress in 2010, but he declined to join the Congressional Black Caucus, saying he wanted to focus on helping all Americans and not one group. That continued a theme throughout his political career of declining publicly to put his race at the forefront.
'DON'T GIVE UP'
Scott said people should emphasize his success story.
He was raised by his mother after his parents divorced when he was young. She supported her family by working 16 hours a day as a nurse's assistant. Scott got jobs working at a gas station and movie theater, but he struggled early in high school.
Scott's life turned around after meeting the owner of a Charleston Chick-fil-A restaurant, John Moniz, who became his mentor. Scott said Moniz taught him the Christian principles of self-reliance that influenced his decision to become a Republican.
"More importantly than the complexion that I have, I think (of) growing up in that single-parent household," Scott said. "I would love to speak to the single moms out there and say, 'Don't give up on your kids.' All things are truly possible in this nation."
After high school, Scott went to Presbyterian College to play football but lost interest, he has said in previous interviews, as he became more religious. Scott transferred to Charleston Southern where he graduated with a degree in political science.
He started a career in insurance sales, collecting sales awards, and spent 13 years on Charleston County Council.
In 2010, he defeated the sons of two powerful S.C. political fathers, Strom Thurmond and Carroll Campbell, to win a seat in Congress. Scott won a second two-year term in November and was awarded a seat on the influential Ways and Means committee. A special election to fill Scott's 1st District congressional seat will take place this spring.