Scott win shows times changing

Tim Scott thanked his diverse group of supporters Tuesday night. 'None of them were going to work for the black guy,' he said Wednesday. 'They were working for the cause.'

Mic Smith

Tim Scott's victory Tuesday in the District 117 state House race marks yet another milestone in a remarkable year of historic firsts for black candidates.

Whether it was Barack Obama winning over the white vote in Iowa on his way to becoming the first black candidate to be nominated for president of a major party, or Scott's winning over white voters in Charleston and Berkeley counties to become the first black Republican to serve in Columbia since Reconstruction, times are changing.

Just last month, state Republicans marked another first by electing a black businessman from Rock Hill to serve as one of South Carolina's two national committee members.

While these events don't rewrite the intersection of race and politics, many experts say they prove that skin color isn't the determinative political force it once was.

Scott said he was proud to be the first black Republican elected to the Statehouse since Reconstruction, but he stressed that the largest message was what his accomplishment says about the party in South Carolina these days.

Scott said 97 volunteers — elderly, young voters, blacks, whites, Latinos and Filipinos — worked for him in the last 10 days of the campaign.

"This was a diverse group of people," he said. "None of them were going to work for the black guy. They were working for the cause."

South Carolina Republican Chairman Katon Dawson said Scott's victory is one sign of how the party has become more inclusive, but it's not the only one.

Last month, York County Republican Party chairman Glenn McCall became the first black from South Carolina to win a seat on the Republican National Committee. Several other black Republicans also sought state offices this year. "It's an exciting time for the Republican Party," Dawson said.

Scott's win is noteworthy because while Republicans have talked about reaching out to minority voters for years, but their efforts seldom extended beyond a news conference or press release, said Clemson University political scientist Bruce Ransom.

"This is significant, though at this point we know it's only one seat," Ransom said. "Still, you can no longer say that no black Republicans have been elected to the state Legislature in South Carolina."

Coupled with McCall's win, Ransom said the GOP outreach effort no longer can be criticized as pure rhetoric. "This is not earthshaking progress. Some might call it a token outcome, but nonetheless it is a breakthrough, and you've got to start somewhere," he said.

McCall said Scott's win and his own victory show that Republican voters aren't really concerned about race. "It's about ideas, who has the vision and can articulate that vision and get people excited about it in that party," he said. "It's putting us head and shoulders above other states in just walking the talk and engaging all people form all backgrounds into the party and our ideas."

Scott was the only one of three black Republicans to win his Statehouse primary Tuesday.

Dale C. Phillips finished last in a five-way primary for the Senate District 10 seat in Abbeville County, and Starletta Hairston of Hilton Head Island lost in the House District 123 primary.

Still, there are at least three others who have a chance to make history alongside Scott when the General Assembly reconvenes next year.

Marvin Rogers of Rock Hill, Steven M. Smith of North Charleston and Bonnie Adams of Green Pond had no primary opponents and will appear as Republicans on the ballots this fall. Smith is challenging incumbent Rep. David Mack, D-North Charleston.

The next milestone might be for a black Republican to win in a predominantly black district. Scott tried years ago but was defeated soundly by incumbent Sen. Robert Ford.

Ford, who faced his own primary battle Tuesday, said of Scott's win, "I guess he needs to be congratulated, but I didn't know nothing about that race."

Nationally, the Republican Party has had some prominent blacks, such as former Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma and Sen. Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, though there are no black Republicans in Congress today.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn has said he doesn't expect to see a day when race won't matter in the nation's politics, but he can foresee a time when it isn't the determining factor.

The third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House, Clyburn has celebrated Obama's historic win by noting that he is scheduled to accept the party's nomination on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech," a speech in which King said that he hoped that his children will live in a world where they "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Clyburn, whose parents identified with the Republican Party while he was growing up, also welcomed McCall's victory. "That's as it should be," he said. "I wished they would had done it years ago."