Tim Scott wins reelection

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, who won re-election on Nov. 8, cast his voted earlier in the day at Hanahan Fire Station 3. Brad Nettles/staff

A guy at the Seabrook Exchange Club last week asked the very question that has a lot of South Carolina folks scratching their heads:

“What is Tim Scott thinking?”

The Post and Courier’s Emma Dumain and Schuyler Kropf recently reported that our junior U.S. senator is considering a 2018 run for governor. And even more intriguing, it would likely be a joint-ticket run for governor-lieutenant governor with his friend, Congressman Trey Gowdy.

Of course, the state Republican Party hailed this as a dream ticket. Scott is one of the state’s most popular politicians, and Gowdy isn’t far behind. Conventional wisdom is that they would be practically unstoppable.

But people who follow politics professionally find the prospect dubious.

South Carolina has a fairly weak governor and the job is limited to two four-year terms. Senators have the potential to be far more influential on a national stage and can hold their jobs for decades. See: Thurmond, Strom and Hollings, Fritz.

And if you want to look at it in a cynical way, governor pays $106,000 while senators make about $175,000.

Why would anyone give up a long-term gig as a United States senator — arguably the best job in politics — to come back and fight with our hard-headed state Legislature? It seems like a no-brainer.

But it’s not that simple, not for Scott.

An old dream

In 1982, Scott ran for governor at Palmetto Boys’ State — the program in which rising high school seniors campaign for office and play mock government. It’s a great civics lesson.

Scott didn’t win the governorship; he ended up a senator. Sound familiar?

But during his senior year, when he was class president, most kids at Stall High School called Scott “governor” or “the future governor.”

It became something of a dream for him —  how could it not? Make no mistake, there are attractions to the job. It’s the opportunity to run an executive branch of government, to be a leader, to recruit job-creating industry.

There’s a sense of ownership in that you can’t get in the U.S. Senate.

Other people say there is probably the added incentive of becoming South Carolina’s first black governor. But Scott certainly doesn’t look at it that way.

Frankly, Scott — like anyone in their right mind — isn’t particularly enamored with Washington. And he has the perspective of knowing both that world and Columbia since he was in the Legislature before leaving for Congress.

He knows what he would be getting into, but there must be a certain appeal in coming home and taking the reins of his state. But he probably won’t, or shouldn’t, do it. Yet.

They need him more in Washington right now.

A needed message

Last summer, after a series of controversial police shootings across the nation, Scott talked frankly about race on the Senate floor.

He recounted all the times he has been profiled by police, even after he became a congressman. It was a measured yet stark portrait of the struggles of blacks in the United States. It was a powerful message heard around the country, probably his finest moment in elected office.

If it came from anyone else, conservatives would not have listened.

Scott has caught flak from the NAACP and other black politicians for being a Republican, a party that is considered by many to be less than empathetic to the plight of blacks.

But that party label does not mean he is indifferent to civil rights — far from it. You can be conservative and still care about such issues. Those who know him say Scott recognizes the problems but is smart enough to realize that, in this political climate, you move the needle a little at a time.

The nation is divided and race is a huge factor in that. The incoming administration is already accused of being under the influence of white nationalists, and Democrats are protesting in the street.

But no one is listening to Democrats right now; they lost. They may listen to the measured message of Tim Scott, however.

Scott is a young man; he has plenty of time to run for governor, and most likely he'll win. The opportunity to help a struggling country, say those who know him, will likely prove more important to him than chasing an old dream.

That’s why he probably won’t run for governor. Yet.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.