By Fred Barnes
Tim Scott is the most heralded Republican House candidate this year, and for good reason. He's likeable, experienced in politics at the local and state level, a self-described "bleeding heart conservative" of the Jack Kemp school, and the champion of an economic program he describes as "under the umbrella of fiscal sanity." Scott, by the way, is an African-American from South Carolina.
Scott, 44, is a strong favorite to win the House seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Henry Brown, who is retiring. He defeated Paul Thurmond, son of Strom, in a runoff last month for the Republican nomination. Now, absent polling evidence, he figures he's ahead by a dozen to 15 percentage points over his Democratic opponent Ben Frasier, an African American who's run for office 19 times but never won.
Scott, amazingly enough, is already the toast of Republicans in Washington, where he spent the last few days meeting with Republican leaders, strategists, and the media. Republicans are eager for an African-American to join their ranks.
If he wins, Scott may not arrive on Capitol Hill as the only African-American Republican. Two others, Allen West in Florida and Ryan Frazier in Colorado, have at least an outside chance of ousting incumbent Democratic House members. There hasn't been a black Republican in Congress since J.C. Watts retired from the House in 2003.
As he tells it, Scott became a Republican in three stages. First, there was the military influence. His father spent 27 years in the Air Force and his two brothers are in the military. "Having a strong military always made sense to me," he told me. And Republicans support a strong military, he says.
Second, there was his becoming a Christian in college. That turned him into a social conservative and strong foe of legalized abortion. This, too, turned him toward Republicans, he says.
And third, he went into the insurance business after graduating from Charleston Southern. He became a tax payer. "If you pay enough taxes, you'll be a Republican," according to Scott.
In 1994, he decided to run for the Charleston County Council and announced his candidacy at a Republican meeting. "With a look of shock and cautious optimism, they clapped," he says. He styled himself the "guru of economic development" as a council member for 13 years.
He spent two years as a state legislator, then declared himself a candidate for lieutenant governor of South Carolina in 2010, raising about $300,000. But since he was running on national issues, he was persuaded to switch to the House race after Brown announced his retirement. He had to return the unspent campaign money for state office. "That was painful," he says.
Scott's economic plan has three planks: limiting "government intrusion," including the repeal of President Obama's health care program, tax reform with reduced individual and corporate taxes, and deep spending cuts.
Why is the late Jack Kemp his model in politics? "He was a conservative who loved people," Scott says, "and that is key to articulating a message people want to hear." If he's elected, Scott will be the one Republican freshman who will surely have an opportunity to be heard.