Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina has appointed Rep Tim Scott to fill the vacancy in the Senate caused by the resignation of Jim DeMint. Scott was only elected to the House in 2010, so he is by no means the most experienced Representative. As a strong supporter of the Tea Party he is, however, a good ideological fit to be DeMint’s replacement. He will also be the only African American in the new Senate, and the first from a confederate state since Reconstruction. His appointment is certainly politically good for the Republican brand, and probably good for Haley.
DeMint’s resignation certainly has an advantage for Haley. Her popularity has been suffering through the first half of her term as governor. There will now be a special election to the Senate in 2014, at the same time as Haley’s term and that of the state’s other US Senator, Lindsey Graham, will expire. The Democratic bench in South Carolina is thin. It will be hard to find strong challengers for all three positions, and Democrats who might have been tempted to challenge Haley may shift their attention to the semi-open seat which DeMint has vacated. However, Haley’s decision to appoint Scott may have shifted that calculation. Democrats need to win 90% or so of the black vote to be competitive in southern states. Scott may therefore prove a tough target. On the other hand, Haley will be running on the same ticket as a prominent black Republican.
Outside of South Carolina, Scott’s appointment is significant. Republicans have a significant bench of Latino talent, but won only 25% of the Hispanic vote in November. There is clearly potential to grow that, as George W Bush won closer to 40% in both his presidential runs. The Democratic percentage of the black vote has also probably peaked. There will never be another first black president. The wider question is perhaps more important: what has Barack Obama’s election done to the state of race relations in the US? It is a significant measure of how far America has come. Perhaps the regular race-based scare stories that Democrats run against Republicans will be less effective in future.
Of course, if Barack Obama’s 95% of the black vote slips back to the 90% that Gore and Kerry won, it still leaves the party overwhelmingly dominant. But what if it slips further? What if both parties start competing for the black vote? Republicans rarely advertise on black radio stations. They make little use of the ready-made networks that black churches provide.
If two parties are competing for the black vote it will certainly be good for African Americans. Presently one party ignores them and the other takes them for granted. But it will not be good for the party which currently has their loyalty. There are huge swing states – Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan – where most counties are Republican but the Democrats have enormous leads in the big cities. Much of this vote is black. If Republicans were to carry even 20-30% of the black vote it would be hard for Democrats to carry any of these states, all of which voted twice for Barack Obama. Even while losing, Gore and Kerry both carried Pennsylvania and Michigan. Democrats cannot afford to lose these states.
Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com