Jun 22, 10:45 PM (ET)
By BRUCE SMITH
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) – Voters in South Carolina nominated a black Republican lawmaker for an open congressional seat Tuesday, rejecting a legendary political name and adding diversity to the national party.
State Rep. Tim Scott defeated Paul Thurmond, an attorney who is son of the one-time segregationist U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond. Scott, who won the runoff with 69 percent of the vote, is now poised to become the nation’s first black GOP congressman since 2003.
Scott, 44, owns an insurance business and became the first black Republican in the South Carolina Legislature in more than a century when elected two years ago. Before that, he served 13 years on Charleston County Council and was elected chairman four times.
He’s now the favorite in the coastal 1st District, which has elected a Republican congressman for three decades. He would become the first black Republican congressman since Oklahoma’s J.C. Watts retired in 2003.
Scott grew up in poverty in North Charleston, his parents divorcing when he was 7. His mother, Frances, worked 16 hours a day raising Scott and a brother and Scott regularly introduce her at campaign events.
Scott also credits a mentor with helping him turn around his life at a time he was in danger of flunking out of high school. He said John Moniz, a conservative entrepreneur who ran a Chick-fil-A, changed his outlook on life.
Scott, who is single, later went on to graduate from Charleston Southern University with a degree in political science.
Earlier this year, Scott was campaigning for lieutenant governor, but changed his sights after U.S. Rep. Henry Brown announced he was retiring. The district reaches from near Charleston northeast along the state’s coast to the high rise hotels of Myrtle Beach.
“This race is not really about winning the election,” Scott told about 200 people gathered for a victory party in a North Charleston hotel. “It’s about finding a way to bring us together so our country leads the world in every way possible.”
Scott picked up key national endorsements, including one from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. The Washington-based Club for Growth, which promotes reducing taxes, budget reform and free trade said Tuesday that donations from its members and political action committee totaled more than $313,000 for Scott.
Observers say the race may be a gauge of diversity in the GOP.
Scott promises to dismantle the new federal health care law he says costs too much and is unconstitutional. He promises to cut federal spending and simplify a federal tax code he says is the product of too much lobbying and too many lawyers.
In November, Scott will be strongly favored over Democrat Ben Frasier, who is also black.