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Black Republican Set To Make History In S.C.

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Black Republican Set To Make History In S.C.

Black Republican Set To Make History In S.C.

Black Republican Set To Make History In S.C.

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Tim Scott, Republican candidate for the U.S. House in South Carolina's 1st District, speaks to a crowd during a campaign event in North Charleston, S.C. South Carolina voters could make history Tuesday by electing the first black Republican congressman from the Deep South since Reconstruction. Bruce Smith/AP hide caption

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Bruce Smith/AP

In South Carolina's 1st Congressional District, most of the attention is focused on the state's gubernatorial race.

Republicans rallied in Charleston this week to support their candidate, Nikki Haley. But Republican Tim Scott, the front-runner in the race for the House, was also working to get votes.

The 1st District is a narrow coastal strip that runs from Charleston to Myrtle Beach. Palmetto trees, historic homes and church steeples abound at the place where the Civil War began.

Next week, the district's voters are likely to make Scott the first black Republican elected to Congress from the Deep South since Reconstruction.

'Limited Government, Lower Taxes'

"We've been campaigning night and day, making sure that America comes back to the conservative cause, led by the Southern values that we all believe in," Scott said at the Charleston rally.

Scott, one of 14 black Republicans seeking House seats this year, is endorsed by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. He owns a small insurance agency and served on the county council and in the state Legislature. Scott brags that he's never voted for a tax increase.

On his website, he says it's time to cut government spending: "Really, what we're looking for is a rebirth of our great nation under the auspices of a smaller, less intrusive government," he says. "That's why limited government, lower taxes and less government spending is so critically important in this election cycle."

While others air a flurry of negative attack ads, Scott is taking a different approach.


"Tim Scott is one of the most genuine and honest people I've ever known," a woman says in his ad. A man adds, "I served on county council with Tim Scott. You don't get any more conservative on taxes and spending than Tim Scott."

Making History

Scott's opponent, Ben Frasier, has run for office 18 times, though he's not campaigning. Scott's tougher election was the primary, in which he beat Paul Thurmond, the son of the legendary Strom Thurmond.

Scott has downplayed the historic significance of his race, which, if he wins, would also make him the first black Republican in the House since Oklahoma's J.C. Watts retired in 2003.

"That's going to immediately give him a platform that other folks don't have," says Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University who studies race. She says there are questions about what kind of role Scott will play in the GOP and whether he will join the Congressional Black Caucus, which has no Republican members.

"He is in a position where he needs to figure out how to help craft the Republican Party message so that it appeals to African-American voters," Gillespie says. "And that means they are going to have to come to grips with some of their policies that may be facially neutral but that African-Americans perceive to be racist, issues like, you know, whether or not the Republican Party supports affirmative action."

Battles over race have long plagued South Carolina, where the Confederate flag flew at the Capitol dome until 2000. The flag remains on the Statehouse grounds and the NAACP is still conducting an economic boycott. Yet Republicans say race hasn't been an issue in this campaign.

Opposing Views

Scott declined to be interviewed by NPR for this story.

Chris Nickels, who goes to church with the candidate, says it's important to show things have changed here.

"In a state that has a legacy of segregation in the past, we know that next week we're going to elect an African-American conservative Republican to represent the folks here in the Lowcountry," he says. "I'm behind Tim all the way."

But just up the road from the rally, at Northwoods Mall in North Charleston, Jamal Robbins says Scott doesn't represent working people.

"I'm not voting for that guy. I don't like his principles," Robbins says. "He's not about trying to help the people that need help. He's about trying to feed the people that already has eaten, if you understand what I'm saying."

In a district that has voted Republican for the past 30 years, analysts say, Scott is all but certain to win the race. And then, Scott will likely be among those trying to attract other African-Americans to the party.

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