The choice of who will replace Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) for the next two years rests with one person and one person alone: Nikki Haley.
And it’s much harder to handicap an appointment than an election.
But when it comes to the choice before Haley, one candidate quickly stands out as making a whole lot of sense to join the upper chamber: Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.).
“The only way that she doesn’t pick Tim Scott is if she picks herself,” said South Carolina GOP strategist Wesley Donehue. “It makes all the sense in the world.”
The reasons Scott’s name has quickly risen the the top are legion (and for more on the man himself, see the National Journal magazine’s recent profile):
* Given the premium the Republican Party has placed on diversification since the 2012 election, adding Scott to its Senate caucus would be nothing but good. He would be the only current black senator and the first Republican black senator since the 1970s.
What’s more, this is the state of longtime Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), where having a black senator would make a huge historical statement. (Further symbolism: Scott easily dispatched Thurmond’s son, Paul Thurmond, in an open primary for his House seat in 2010.)
* Scott and Haley are friendly. They even recently crashed the Democratic National Convention together. And they share a top political adviser and pollster, Jon Lerner.
* Scott has a down-the-line conservative record that few in the party would balk at. The Club for Growth likes him, and the tea party likes him. In addition, he’s a member of the House leadership and thus has ties to the establishment wing of the party.
“Tim Scott has an excellent record on our issues, but right now we’re not even thinking about who the replacement will be,” Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller told The Fix.
Added conservative blogger Erick Erickson: “Gov. Nikki Haley now has the ability to give the US Senate its only black Senator — a conservative from South Carolina named Tim Scott.
* DeMint has reportedly told state Republican officials that he wants Scott to become his successor, according to a South Carolina Republican operative with knowledge of the conversations.
“Jim DeMint has said he wants Tim Scott — period,” the operative said. “The ball is in Gov. Haley’s court. Does she go with the status quo and appoint Scott? I think it would be hard not to.”
(Update: Longtime DeMint aide Matt Hoskins denies this, saying “Senator DeMint does not have a favorite in terms of who replaces him. … Anyone who says differently doesn’t know what they’re taking about.” )
* Scott is pretty clearly interested in taking the next step, telling the National Journal in March: “The House is training for whatever the good Lord has for me next. I know that this is not the end itself. … I know where I’m supposed to be three and a half years from now.”
* It would be difficult for Haley to appoint herself. She’s not very popular in South Carolina right now, and voters have often balked at the idea of governors appointing themselves. In fact, no governor has appointed himself since the 1970s, and before that, only one who appointed himself won the next election.
In addition, she would be allowing her rival, state Senate Pro Tem Glenn McConnell (R), to become governor, which as we’ve written before is a tricky situation and could harm the party more broadly (McConnell is a Confederate history buff who was once photographed alongside two African-Americans dressed as slaves).
* Haley’s unpopularity means she could also benefit from such an historic appointment.
Haley does have some motivation not to pick Scott — particularly, if she would prefer a placeholder for the seat rather than someone who will run in 2014 and have a potential leg up on the competition.
Two names under discussion are former state attorney general Henry McMaster and former ambassador David Wilkins. That would set off what the operative above called “a massive brawl” of a GOP primary for the open seat in two years — and could potentially take some heat off Haley herself, who is up for reelection in 2014.
Scott’s office put out a statement Thursday in which it didn’t say whether he would seek the job.
“Looking forward, Governor Haley will now appoint a new Senator, and I know she will make the right choice both for South Carolina and the nation,” Scott said.
Over the next few hours and days, expect the conventional wisdom to settle around the idea that Scott is the right choice.
Philip Rucker contributed to this post.