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Sen. Tim Scott says his 2022 SC reelection bid will be his last political race

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U.S. Sen. Tim Scott meets with members of the community after participating in the The Post and Courier's third Pints & Politics event at Baker and Brewer Thursday August 8, 2019, in Charleston. Gavin McIntyre/ Staff

In three years, Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott will be up for reelection in South Carolina, but he will also be facing something else: his last political run.

During The Post and Courier's "Pints and Politics" event Thursday, Scott announced he had no interest in running for political office after 2022.

"I plan to run for reelection, but that will be my last one, if I run," Scott said, eliciting gasps and a few claps from the audience of more than 250 people.

Asked if he had interest in running for governor, a frequent political question posed to Scott due to his appeal among the GOP, the senator replied with a straightforward, "No."

Scott's announcement is in line with an early promise he made in 2014, shortly after he took the oath of office on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

At the time, Scott told reporters from his home state that he favored term limits and would impose one on himself. He promised to finish out the final two years of former Sen. Jim DeMint's term and then hoped to be reelected to two, full six-year terms. 

But in the context of modern Southern political history, Scott's decision to limit his time in Congress is an unusual move.

"The typical move by Southern members of Congress, especially in the 20th century, was to get in early, stay in for a long time, get a prestigious committee assignment, and then get seniority so that you can have an impact," said College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts.

There's certainly been the case in South Carolina, where Republican U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond served from 1956 to 2003 and U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings, a Democrat served from 1966 to 2005. Even U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has been in the Senate since 2003, chairs the powerful Judiciary Committee and also is eyeing reelection next year. U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, who resigned two years into his second term, is the exception.

"In that way, the South was able to have more influence than with just raw numbers because they had people that got elected and just stayed," Knotts said.

News of Scott's political timeline also comes amid a recent wave of retirements from Republican lawmakers.

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Eleven House Republicans in the past two weeks have announced they won't seek reelection next year. The most recent GOP lawmaker to confirm their political departure plans is U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of El Paso, Texas.

Hurd is the only black Republican currently serving in the House. Scott is the only black Republican in the Senate.

Scott and Hurd have been working together on a project to try to attract center-right minorities, women, and millennials into the Republican Party and encourage them to run for office. 

Scott said being an African American Republican presents him with a unique set of challenges, particularly when he is asked to respond to the racially charged rhetoric of President Donald Trump.

"Anytime you have a lot of tweets that go out and a lot of it seems to be centered around issues of race, as a living, breathing unicorn — a black Republican — it makes my life harder," Scott said. "So I try to respond to his tweets when necessary by being authentic. I don't try to sugarcoat what he says."

Saying he tries to "call balls and strikes" on the issue of race, Scott said it was racially offensive when Trump told four minority, Democratic congresswomen, to "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came" in a tweet last month.

Scott said Trump's recent criticism of U.S. Rep. Elijah Cumming, D-Maryland, and his city of Baltimore were "inappropriate for the president, but not racially motivated."

Scott said he sees the polarization of America firsthand in a way that few others do. He said people have made threats on his life for not being helpful enough to the president and for not being helpful enough to the black community.

"I get to see the raw reality of this infection in our country around the issue of hate, polarization and making judgments on people without even knowing those people," he said.

Scott has been in the Senate since January 2013, when he was appointed to the spot by then-Gov. Nikki Haley after DeMint quit to run the Heritage Foundation.

Before serving in the Senate, he briefly represented South Carolina's 1st Congressional District from 2011-2013.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

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