Scott’s departure for Senate will trigger third special House election in 2013

December 17, 2012

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's (R) decision to tap Rep. Tim Scott (R) as soon-to-resign GOP Sen. Jim DeMint's replacement will trigger the third special House election of 2013, one that is likely to take place in the spring. 

Based on South Carolina election law and what DeMint has said about when he plans to step aside, a likely time frame for a special election to replace Scott looks to be as follows: A late March primary and early May general election. 

The election to replace Scott is thus far the third House special election slated for 2013. In Illinois's 2nd District, a special election to replace former Democratic congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. will take place in April, while another one to replace soon-to-resign Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R) in Missouri's 8th District will also happen next year. Neither seat is expected to switch party control.

Nor is Scott's seat. The 1st District congressman, who was first elected in 2010, represents a GOP-leaning area that hugs the Palmetto State's Atlantic coast and includes parts of Charleston County, extending southward. 

The primary will likely be the most interesting part of the special campaign, since the seat is expected to stay in GOP hands. The district leans Republican; it gave Sen. John McCain (R) about 56 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential race. Scott easily won reelection in November with 62 percent of the vote. 

According to one Republican with knowledge of Scott's district, the GOP names to watch in the race to replace him include state Sen. Larry Grooms, who ran for governor in 2010; state Sen. Tom Davis, former governor Mark Sanford's (R) former chief of staff and a supporter of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas); Paul Thurmond, the son of the late senator Strom Thurmond (R) and a recently elected state senator whom Scott defeated in 2010; state House Majority Whip Jimmy Merrill; state Rep. Peter McCoy; and former South Carolina first lady Jenny Sanford.

A second Republican familiar with the district said that Grooms, McCoy and Merrill are likeliest on that list to run and added that state Rep. Chip Limehouse may also make a bid. The Republican pointed to state Sen. Chip Campsen as another possibility. 

State law says that a special primary election to fill a U.S. House vacancy must occur on the 11th Tuesday after the vacancy occurs, with a runoff to follow (if no candidate receives majority support) two weeks later. The special general election must be held 18 weeks after a vacancy occurs. 

DeMint has said he will resign in early January. If Scott steps down during the first week of next year, then a late March primary would be followed by an early May special general election to replace him. 

Scott's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about when he would resign his seat.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Jon Cohen | December 17, 2012