DeMint Replacement Could Be Senate's Lone African-American

GOP operatives say Rep. Tim Scott is the front-runner to take DeMint's seat.

Rep. Tim Scott rallies voters with 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Dec. 17, 2011 in Charleston, South Carolina.
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If Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley listens to some of her party's own prognosticators, she could appoint the Senate's lone African-American to fill resigning South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint's open seat.

Several names are starting to be tossed around for DeMint's replacement, including freshman Rep. Tim Scott, who some believe is the front-runner.

"Tim Scott is obviously the undisputed favorite," one South Carolina GOP operative says. "It would be very historic for the state's first woman governor to appoint the Senate's only African-American man."

Former South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster and David Wilkins, who was the ambassador to Canada during George W. Bush's administration, have also been discussed by GOP leaders in the state.

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A slew of freshman congressmen including Rep. Jeff Duncan, Rep. Trey Gowdy, and Rep. Mick Mulvaney are also being tossed around as potential nominees.

"I'd be interested," Mulvaney told U.S. News. "Anyone in our delegation would be a good pick for Nikki. It would help to have someone who is familiar with the process in this difficult time."

Haley could also pick herself for the post, however she has said she is not considering that an option.

Rob Godfrey, Haley's spokesman, would not comment further on the selection process.

"Today is about Sen. DeMint's service to our state and nation, and that's where the focus should remain."

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The biggest winner in all of the news, pundits say, is South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is also up for election in 2014. Many expected Graham to face a tough primary in the state, but with an open Senate seat available, experts say potential competitors will likely stay out of his way.

DeMint shocked Washington and GOP officials in his home state Thursday when he announced his departure from the Senate to run the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

"I'm leaving the Senate now, but I'm not leaving the fight," DeMint said in a public statement. "I've decided to join The Heritage Foundation at a time when the conservative movement needs strong leadership in the battle of ideas. No organization is better equipped to lead this fight, and I believe my experience in public office as well as in the private sector as a business owner will help."

DeMint is expected to see a dramatic pay increase when he begins at Heritage. Ed Feulner, the current president, makes roughly $1.1 million a year, compared to the $174,000 DeMint makes serving in the Senate. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, DeMint is one of the poorest members of Congress, with a net worth estimated to be around $40,000.

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DeMint, who is serving his second term in the Senate, has been very clear during his tenure that he would not seek a third term, but his exit comes earlier than expected.

Friends say DeMint, who will begin at Heritage in January, has long been frustrated by the way Democrats have run the Senate, along with the criticisms that have come from his own party.

"If the Republicans had been able to take the Senate, he would have had more of an incentive to stay," says David Woodard, a friend and colleague who wrote a book with DeMint. "He feels like he has been bashing his head against the wall for awhile. This is an opportunity to formulate policy without having to go into cloak rooms and convince the other side to go along with him."

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Lauren Fox is a political reporter for U.S. News & World Report. She can be reached at lfox@usnews.com or you can follow her on Twitter @foxreports.