WASHINGTON — Reps. Trey Gowdy and Tim Scott, first-term Republicans from South Carolina, are both in the running to replace Sen. Jim DeMint when the conservative leaves office next month. But they say they know the best man for the job: the other guy.
“If you were to select the best senator to represent a state with a history as rich but provocative as ours,” Gowdy said, “you would construct Tim Scott.”
Scott begs to differ. “I honestly feel that Trey would be an amazing senator,” he said. When you are being considered for such a seat, “most people who call you want you to get the job so they can have yours,” he said. “The two exceptions were my mom and Trey.”
DeMint’s surprise retirement announcement last week — he will become the head of the conservative Heritage Foundation in January — has left Gov. Nikki Haley in the delicious spot of choosing a replacement who would fill out the last two years of his term and then presumably run to defend the seat in 2014.
Gowdy and Scott are on the short list of contenders, which also includes Jenny Sanford, the ex-wife of former Gov. Mark Sanford, who infamously disappeared for almost a week in 2009 to visit his mistress in Argentina; Catherine Templeton, a lawyer who runs the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control; and Henry McMaster, a former state attorney general.
The competition for the opportunity to join the Senate without facing the voters — and gain an advantage for the next election — often inspires backbiting and chilly discord among the hopefuls. But Scott and Gowdy are eating, praying and heaping praise on each other through an experience that will absolutely end in great disappointment for one — if not both — in their search for ascent.
The two men cannot stop bantering — citing Bible verses, planning lunch, talking about legislation, the wisdom of law school versus no law school (Gowdy is a former prosecutor, Scott sold insurance) and debating which of them is more awesome.
Gowdy on Scott: “He’s the person you want living next door to you. He’s the person you want executing your will. He’s the one you want teaching your kids Sunday school.”
Scott on Gowdy: “This process has reinforced the truth that he is a better man.”
While the two men are conservative and closely aligned politically, their backgrounds and skills are different.
Scott served in local and state government in South Carolina, and owned a small business. His fellow freshmen in the House chose him for a leadership role in their class, but he is a quiet presence there, prone to sticking with his delegation. If appointed, he would be the only black member of the Senate, which many Republicans see as a huge potential boost for their party.
Gowdy is as gregarious as Scott is shy, a constant presence in all manner of Washington media. A former federal prosecutor, his legislative style is forceful and emotional, and his relentless and high-pitched grilling of witnesses from the Obama administration on issues like the Benghazi terrorist attack and the misuse of funds by government workers on junkets are YouTube fodder.
Gowdy hails from the vote-rich Upstate area of South Carolina, where Republican voters tend to tilt races; Scott comes from Charleston, in the Lowcountry, where voting patterns are more mixed.
“We are lucky to have a deep bench here,” said Chad Connelly, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. “Tim Scott has assumed a quick leadership role in the Republican caucus, and Trey Gowdy is a conservative rock star. This is a hard call because you’re going to have to leave somebody out.”
Most Republicans believe that Haley will ultimately make a choice that helps bolster her own prospects in 2014, when she is up for re-election along with Sen. Lindsey Graham, also a Republican. Some believe she will pick the person she most fears would give her a primary challenge; others say she wants a person whose voting record will reflect well on her.
Connelly said that 2014 “is going to be a mess for us.”
Haley said this week that political experience was not a necessary prerequisite for the seat. “It is not about time in office, which I think is the wrong way of looking at government,” she said at a news conference. “It’s the effect and the result they can show in office.”
Either way, Scott and Gowdy insist, their friendship will take first priority and will deepen from the experience of competing.
“Tim and I pray together that the Lord will give her wisdom in her choice,” Gowdy said. Then the two grinned at each other, and stood up together.