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Haley's Choices

3:20 PM, Dec 10, 2012 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, will appoint a new senator to take the seat of GOP senator Jim DeMint, who was reelected in 2010 and will be resigning early next year to become president of the Heritage Foundation. Sources in South Carolina say Haley will pick Charleston-area congressman Tim Scott, and, if not him, state representative Ralph Norman is considered the next most likely candidate for the job. 

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The governor’s office released a statement Monday afternoon stating that Haley will not appoint someone as a “placeholder” and will instead choose someone who intends to run for the seat in 2014 to fill the remainder of DeMint’s term, which ends in 2017. 

“I do not want to tie the next U.S. Senator from South Carolina's hands regarding future office,” said Haley in the statement. “I do not want to deprive our state’s citizens of the chance to render their judgment on the appointee’s performance by way of their vote. Most importantly, while I am an avid supporter of term limits, I do not want the effectiveness of our state’s new U.S. Senator to be undermined by the fact that he or she will automatically be leaving the office such a very short time after assuming it.”

This affirmation means Haley is unlikely to select Chad Walldorf, owner of a regional barbecue restaurant chain and a veteran of Republican politics who is close to the current governor. South Carolina GOP sources say Scott, the 47-year-old sophomore House member, is a more likely pick. 

A rising star within the party, Scott will be the only black Republican in the next Congress. He was swept into power, along with several other South Carolina Republican House members, during the 2010 Tea Party wave, though he is also on good terms with House leadership. Scott and Haley both served a term in the state house together, and their relationship then was apparently strong. 

“There’s a strong comfort level, trust, and personal rapport” between Scott and Haley, says one South Carolina GOP operative. 

Importantly, some say Scott is DeMint’s own choice to be his successor. DeMint’s prominence nationally as well as in South Carolina as a principled conservative willing to “fight” for smaller government means Haley has an incentive to consider his wishes. Haley won her gubernatorial race in 2010 by running against the political establishment in Columbia, but her political fortunes have foundered since then. Her latest approval rating is an abysmal 38 percent, and she has frustrated her base of support among grassroots conservatives. A Senate appointment not greeted with approval from these DeMint acolytes could spell trouble for Haley in her 2014 reelection effort.

Haley could also select 59-year-old Ralph Norman, another of her colleagues in the state house with whom she is also very close. Norman has publicly stated he is interested in the seat. His reputation is that of an “independent” willing to challenge his party’s establishment, including house speaker Bobby Harrell. He’s also considered one of Haley’s few remaining allies in the legislature. Loyalty, sources say, is of particularly high value to Haley as she looks not only at her future in South Carolina but nationally.

Haley has not indicated when she will announce her decision, but most observers expect a replacement to be named before Christmas.

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