To out-of-state media, Tim Scott is the black Republican who beat Strom Thurmond's son Paul in an ironic election outcome fraught with racial symbolism and historic significance.
What's missing from that perspective is the fact that Scott has been warmly embraced by the Republican Party and its mostly white electorate in South Carolina for more than 15 years.
He was the recipient of record-setting campaign donations from the state GOP during his first run for Charleston County Council in 1995, and in 1996 he co-chaired the Senate re-election campaign of the elder Thurmond.
"Paul was always more of a (Charleston County) Council colleague than a son of Strom Thurmond, to me," said Scott, who was council chairman when Thurmond was elected to that body.
Yes, Scott was the first black Republican elected to public office in South Carolina since 1900, when he first won a seat on County Council.
He's the only black Republican in the Legislature today, and he likely will be the only black Republican in Congress if he wins the general election in November.
But Scott is quick to dismiss that sort of talk, and has been loath to discuss race at all during his congressional campaign. He claims no interest in being the "only" or the "first" black anything.
"My goal is just to be the guy that I've always been," he said at his Allstate Insurance Co. office in West Ashley the day after his victory in the runoff election.
Scott, 44, said that what his large margin of victory demonstrates -- he captured 68 percent of the vote in the runoff -- is that conservatives are colorblind when it comes to electing conservatives. They care about ideas and ideals. Period.
That's a message that conservatives and the tea party movement have been eager to spread, in response to suggestions that some opposition to President Barack Obama is racially based.
"I think South Carolina voters are conservative and want conservative candidates, and don't care what they look like," Scott said.
Scott's conservative bona fides include heavy financial support from the Club for Growth political action committee, and endorsements from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Alaska Gov. and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
The real issue for the Republican Party, Scott said, is the question of which political philosophy is best, and from which part of the political spectrum should the party and the nation be governed.
"I think the dynamics of this party are in flux right now," he said. "My answer is simple: It's from the far, conservative right."
Scott denounces the Democrats who control Washington today as socialists who want to run up the national debt. He's embraces the economic theories of Arthur Laffer -- the idea that tax cuts result in greater tax revenues, up to a point -- that guided the Reagan administration.
Scott's congressional campaign largely has been defined by what he promises to not do in Congress, if elected. He's pledged to not accept any earmarks for his district, to not serve more than four terms, to not support cap-and-trade climate legislation, and to not support any spending that adds to the deficit.
"I believe we either reform the system or we lose our financial footing," he said.
Running in a Republican district with no well-funded opponents, Scott is the runaway favorite to win the general election, but he would be the last person to say so.
"If you run like your life is at stake, chances are you will do your best," Scott said. "I've lost before, and it's not fun."
Of course, a lot could happen between now and November, and this is South Carolina, where an unemployed man who did not campaign, Alvin Greene, won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate against a well-funded retired judge who is a former state lawmaker.
Scott's opponents in the 1st Congressional District are perennial Democratic candidate Ben Frasier, Keith Blandford of the Libertarian Party, Robert Dobbs of the Green Party, M.E. McCullough of the United Citizens Party and Jimmy Wood of the Independent Party.
The 1st District covers parts of Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester, Georgetown and Horry counties. It has been in Republican hands since 1980.
Scott noted that the last time the United States had a federal budget surplus was when Bill Clinton was president and Republicans controlled Congress.
"It seems like things work best in our country when we have tension between the two parties," Scott said. "I want to help provide that tension."
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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