Black lawmaker's win indicates new era for S.C. GOP, some say

COLUMBIA -- As Tim Scott slides into his chair in the S.C. House chambers in January, he'll become the first black Republican to do so since Reconstruction ended in 1877.

Scott outmuscled two fellow Republicans in Tuesday's primary to earn the right to represent the people of House District 117, which includes Berkeley and Charleston counties. He faces no Democratic opposition in the fall.

His ascension puts South Carolina on par with Georgia, the only other Deep South state with black Republicans in the state legislature. Scott could be joined by two more black GOP members in the fall if candidates Naomi Adams of Green Pond and Marvin Rogers of Rock Hill beat their Democratic challengers in November.

Some say Scott's win Tuesday represents a new era for the GOP in South Carolina, where pro-business, low-tax, limited-government black conservatives are finding a home.

Scott's "to-do" list includes new initiatives to grow small businesses.

"Small business is the backbone of the country. It's the greatest hope, other than Jesus Christ, for the African-American in South Carolina," said Scott, a born-again Christian.

But deep Statehouse wounds could work against Scott.

His biggest obstacle is likely to be his ties to Gov. Mark Sanford, who endorsed Scott. The divide between the governor and the Legislature has reached a point where it may supersede the House-Senate rivalry and the Republican-Democratic rift.

Scott, the owner of three small businesses and chairman of Charleston County Council, said he got a first-hand look at anti-Sanford sentiment last year when the governor nominated him for state treasurer.

Not one lawmaker followed the governor's lead and nominated Scott. Instead, they elected Rep. Converse Chellis, R-Dorchester.

The election was a shot at Sanford, not Scott, said Rep. Leon Howard, chairman of the Black Caucus.

"For Sanford to drop in at the 11th hour like that and push his guy on us, that guy is not going to win. It doesn't matter if it's Tim Scott or who it is," Howard said.

Scott acknowledges there are challenges ahead. And he's ready.

He favors fresh approaches to growing the state's Republican party, specifically minorities and other Democratic loyalists. "It's not just enough to open that door, but we have to walk out that door and invite new people in," he said.

The inclusive approach is the new rallying cry for the state's Republicans. Earlier this month, Glenn McCall of Rock Hill became the first black South Carolina's Republicans have ever elected to the prestigious Republican National Committee. McCall ran on a similar open-door platform.

But will accepting invitations to speak about conservative values at NAACP events be enough to swing the pendulum in the GOP's favor?

Adolphus Belk Jr., assistant professor of political science and African-American studies at Winthrop University, thinks it's possible.

His research shows two-thirds of the state's black likely voters consider themselves moderate or conservative.

Republicans could woo such voters by harping on shared social beliefs like opposition to abortion and homosexuality, Belk said.

Pairing that with a more nuanced approach to civil rights issues like affirmative action could translate into blacks voting for Republicans, Belk said.