DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.
South Carolina's governor, Nikki Haley, has named her fellow Republican Tim Scott as the state's next senator. He replaces Republican Jim DeMint, who's leaving the Senate to head the conservative Heritage Foundation. Scott will make history as the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction. But Governor Haley wanted everyone to know her selection was based on Scott's merit.
GOVERNOR NIKKI HALEY: He earned this seat for the results he has shown. He earned this seat for what I know he's going to do in making South Carolina and making our country proud.
GREENE: Still, as NPR's Brakkton Booker reports, some Republicans see Scott's appointment as a chance to prove their party is more diverse than its image.
BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: The last African-American to represent a Southern state in the Senate was also Republican. He represented Mississippi from '75 to '81. That's 1875 to 1881. But yesterday Congressman Scott said his skin color has never been an issue for South Carolina voters.
REPRESENTATIVE TIM SCOTT: A few years ago, the First District gave me an opportunity to represent their issues and their values. And what I've not ever really heard on the campaign trail was beside the fact that you're black, or because you're black, here's what we want to do. And that's an amazing thing. I think it speaks to the evolution of South Carolina and of our nation.
BOOKER: Scott was one of two black Republicans to ride the Tea Party wave into Congress in 2010. The other was Allen West of Florida, who lost a close re-election race in November. Scott grew up poor in Charleston, an experience he says helped shape his views on the role of government. Here he is speaking to a meeting of black conservatives on C-Span earlier this year.
SCOTT: Growing up in a single parent household, living in abject poverty and having the opportunity to successfully flunk out of high school in the ninth grade really helped me reach my conclusion that the more government came to help me, the less individually responsible I was going to be for myself.
BOOKER: Scott touts a Tea Party message of drastically smaller government. Beyond that, he has endeared himself to many conservatives with his willingness to criticize President Obama, as he did at the Republican National Convention in Tampa this summer.
SCOTT: And let me close by giving President Obama a heartfelt message from the good people of South Carolina: Hit the road, Jack, and don't you come back no more, no more, no more. Thank you.
BOOKER: Displays like this, and his record on fiscal issues, have left an impression on many within his party.
SENATOR RAND PAUL: I know Tim Scott from having played on the Republican baseball team with him.
BOOKER: That's Kentucky Senator and Tea Party Republican Rand Paul, who thinks Scott can help the GOP improve its poor standing with black voters.
PAUL: It's a good idea for us and will help us will help us make inroads where we don't seem to have been doing very well lately with the African-American vote.
BOOKER: Up until now, Scott has been known for defending fellow Republicans even when their comments strike other African-Americans as racially tinged. One such case arose during the Republican presidential primary season when candidate Newt Gingrich said...
NEWT GINGRICH: I'm prepared - if the NAACP invites me, I'll go to their convention to talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.
BOOKER: Scott came back with this during an interview with NPR...
SCOTT: What I heard Newt say was that all Americans should have a work ethic that matches the global competitive nature that we are going into. And if in fact we're going to be globally competitive, we're going to have to have a strong work ethic.
BOOKER: When he arrived in the Capitol, Scott decided against joining the Congressional Black Caucus, where members tend to embrace the role of government, like South Carolina's other black congressman, James Clyburn.
REPRESENTATIVE JAMES CLYBURN: Any theory that things will be hunky dory if the government gets out of the way runs contrary to my beliefs.
BOOKER: Clyburn and Scott may not agree on much, but Clyburn says they're still friends. And, he adds, Scott will be a good fit for DeMint's seat. How good a fit he is will be tested soon, as Scott will have to defend the seat in 2014.
Brakkton Booker, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.