U.S. Sen. Tim Scott will have his job for as long as he wants it, political observers say.
The North Charleston Republican – who says he plans to hold the seat for no more than two full terms and could one day leave public office to become a minister – is set to cruise to victory this year with no opposition from his own party and an apparently weak Democratic threat.
As filing closed Wednesday, Democrats fielded one candidate to challenge the senator, showing their inability to mount a serious challenger to the incumbent.
“Maybe they’re keeping their powder dry, their first string rested for 2018” and the race for the governor’s office, Winthrop political scientist Scott Huffmon said of state Democrats. “Despite the organizational advances, their bench is fairly thin.”
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North Charleston’s Thomas Dixon, a 63-year-old political newcomer, pastor and grassroots activist, is running against Scott as a Democrat, saying his struggle with alcohol, drug addiction and prison are driving his campaign for stronger gun laws and his desire to help people.
Three third-party candidates also are seeking the seat, which is safe for Scott, observers say.
Katon Dawson, a former S.C. GOP chairman, said Scott could be poised for overwhelming wins for as long as he wants the seat.
“Obviously, with (U.S. Sens.) Strom Thurmond and Fritz Hollings, we don’t kick senators out very often,” Dawson said of two of the state’s U.S. senators who retired in 2003 and 2005 after 47 and 39 years in office, respectively.
S.C. voters have voted out of office only one U.S. senator in the past century: Coleman Blease in 1930.
“I think that will be up to Tim Scott” when he wants to leave office, Dawson said. “If he thinks he’s not being effective, he’ll find his way out.”
A rapid rise
Odds favor a Scott victory in the November general election and will solidify Scott in the GOP firmament.
Beating Scott, hugely popular in his own party, would be an insurmountable lift for any Democratic challenger without Scott falling from grace, Huffmon added.
A darling of the Republican Party, Scott was appointed to the U.S. Senate seat in late 2012 after Jim DeMint resigned to run The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Scott then ran in 2014 to finish DeMint’s unexpired term. He is the only African-American Republican in the U.S. Senate.
Scott drew no challengers from the state’s GOP talent pool in 2014. Only one obscure Republican, Randall Young of Greenville, ran against Scott but did little to no campaigning.
Scott won the November election that year against a Democrat and American Party candidate with 61 percent of the vote.
A 2016 victory should come with similar ease for Scott, said Chip Felkel, a Greenville political consultant.
“On the Republican side, people are really happy with him, and on the Democratic side, whether they’re happy or not doesn’t matter because they can’t mount a serious challenge.”
Democrats almost fielded a potential threat to Scott in 2014. But Rick Wade, a former Barack Obama campaign adviser and administration official, backed out of the race after deciding he did not have time to raise the money he needed to compete.
S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison did not write off Dixon, a North Charleston activist and U.S. Navy veteran.
Harrison said Dixon has a strong grassroots appeal that could help him make up for any shortcomings in raising money to challenge Scott, who finished 2015 with almost $4.6 million to spend on his re-election.
Scott said Wednesday he is not taking any votes for granted.
“We are now in the position to earn the right to serve,” Scott said. “Being the Republican nominee is not a win. It’s merely a starting point.”
If he wins a full term, Scott said, he hopes to continue pushing what he calls his “opportunity agenda,” highlighting the “power of education to transform lives.”