In a town in which genuine surprises are few and far between, South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint's resignation stunned the political world.
The Fix, of course, prides ourselves on quickly bouncing back from surprise to provide analysis. And so that's what we are doing! Having spent the morning processing the DeMint news, we offer some winners and losers from the announcement. As always, we attempt to get beyond the most obvious choices to make a few picks you might not have thought of.
Who did we miss? The comments section awaits.
* Tim Scott: The second term African American House Member has been tagged as a rising star since he came to Congress in 2010 but now finds himself at the front of the line when it comes to who Gov. Nikki Haley (R) might appoint to replace DeMint. If he gets picked, Scott will instantly emerge as a major national figure for Republicans as the lone black Senator in either party. Even if Scott doesn't get picked -- and he is the odds-on favorite to be Haley's selection -- his profile both in the state and nationally is raised by this process, meaning he is the first guy mentioned for future statewide openings.
* Lindsey Graham: Before DeMint's resignation, conservatives -- both in the Palmetto State and nationally -- had set their minds to fielding a serious primary challenge to Graham, who is up for re-election in 2014. Now, it seems likely that most of the energy (and money) from conservative groups will go into the 2014 primary for DeMint's seat. That goes double if Haley chooses to appoint a caretaker who won't seek election in 2014, a move that would set off a massive (and fascinating) Republican primary for the DeMint seat. While Graham isn't totally out of the woods yet, DeMint's decision takes a lot of heat off of the senior senator from South Carolina.
* Heritage Foundation: Quick, name the current president of the Heritage Foundation. (It's Edwin Feulner -- and has been since 1977!) There's no chance that anyone outside of the conservative think tank world would know the answer to that question. But, with DeMint as the incoming president, Heritage will assume a very prominent profile within not only the national conservative world but the wider political world. Heritage is, all of a sudden, the prime mover (or, at the very least, one of them) on the conservative ideas side of things.
* Nikki Haley: On the cusp of her own re-election bid in 2014, Haley gets to make a pick that will have lasting consequences on how the state is represented in Washington. If you think that choice will be made separately from Haley's own political needs, you haven't spent much time watching how politics is played.
* The Kentucky Senators: With DeMint no longer in the Senate, the title of most-prominent-tea-party-aligned Senator now falls to Rand Paul, which is undoubtedly exactly how he likes it. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell now no longer has to worry about a challenge to his job from the right anytime soon.
* The South Carolina political class: We've long believed that there is no better place in the country to see politics played as bloodsport than the Palmetto State. Now, over the next two years, the state will play host to not one but two U.S. Senate races and Haley's reelection bid. Even before those races end, the 2016 presidential wannabes -- for both Democrats and Republicans -- will start stopping by the state. In short: It's a very good time to be a South Carolina political consultant.
* The Senate: It's telling when a Senator with a real profile in the world's greatest deliberative body decides to walk away to head a think tank. Senate defenders will insist that DeMint's move had more to do with his own interests than anything about the chamber but to walk away from a job that many politicians covet for a lifetime takes a bit of the shine from the place.
* Nikki Haley: Yes, as we noted above, Haley will be able to make a pick that solidifies a group (or groups) for her own re-election race. But almost no matter who she picks, there will be some within the party who feel as though she slighted their preferred candidate -- particularly in a state with as fractious a Republican party as South Carolina. Haley must tread very carefully -- not only in her final pick but in the public and private deliberations that get her to that final pick.
* The Tea Party: DeMint's resignation comes at a tough time for the tea party which is, by its own admission, going through a period of self-evaluation and analysis about what it is and what it can be. While DeMint will continue to exert influence from the outside, his departure from the Senate will play into the storyline that many tea party icons -- DeMint, Reps. Allen West (Fla.) and Joe Walsh (Ill.) -- are disappearing from the halls of Congress and, in so doing, robbing the movement of genuine influence within official Washington.
* Special election lovers: Anyone else wish that states had to hold special elections to fill Senate vacancies? Us too. Side benefit: If Haley does pick Tim Scott, there will be a special election to replace him in the 1st district. (Jenny Sanford, anyone?) That will have to do. Which is fine. We guess.
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