Tim Scott is on Trump’s VP short list. What happens if he leaves the Senate? • SC Daily Gazette

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott is reportedly on Donald Trump’s short list of candidates to join his ticket, raising the question of who would replace South Carolina’s junior senator — and how.

Scott has been considered a potential running mate for Trump since he dropped out in November, when the GOP presidential field was still crowded. But speculation really ramped up after Scott’s on-stage endorsement of Trump two months later. Scott’s been such an enthusiastic supporter, Trump has said the senator’s a better campaigner for him than Scott was for himself.

“He did well (in the primary), but he wasn’t as forceful as he is, because he doesn’t want to talk about himself. So interesting,” Trump said at a rally in North Charleston in February.

Speculation may end Thursday night.

Trump has teased that he “most likely” would announce his pick for vice president during his televised debate with President Joe Biden in Atlanta.

If Trump chooses Scott, and their ticket wins in November, South Carolina’s next U.S. senator would take office the same way Scott did in 2013.

By state law, the governor replaces any U.S. senator who leaves office before the term ends. The interim appointment lasts through the next general election, considered a special election for the Senate seat, according to the state Elections Commission.

In December 2012, then-Gov. Nikki Haley appointed Scott to replace U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint of Greenville, who resigned two years into his six-year term to lead the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

Scott had just won re-election to the coastal 1st Congressional District. But instead of starting a second term in the U.S. House, the former Charleston County Council chairman was sworn in to the U.S. Senate in January 2013, becoming the South’s first Black Republican senator since Reconstruction.

Keeping the seat required going through the regular election process in 2014. Scott won the GOP primary that June by an 80-percentage-point landslide, then beat his Democratic challenger by 24 points that November to fulfill the rest of DeMint’s term.

Scott then trounced his competition in 2016 to win his first full term. He had another easy win in 2022 for a Senate race he’s said was his last.

If Scott leaves the U.S. Senate after November — similarly two years into a six-year term — Gov. Henry McMaster would appoint his replacement.

South Carolina is one of 37 states that uses a gubernatorial appointment to fill Senate vacancies until a general election. Of those, 10 require the governor to appoint an interim of the same political party as the departing senator, according to the Congressional Research Service. 

South Carolina does not mandate that parties match. However, it’s a given that McMaster, a former state Republican Party chairman, would appoint a Republican.  

In this hypothetical scenario, should McMaster’s appointee want to stay in the Senate, the interim would face a potential primary and general election in 2026 to serve out the remainder of Scott’s term through 2028.

McMaster had no comment on whether he had any candidates in mind to replace Scott.

“It would be premature at this point to make plans,” McMaster spokesman Brandon Charochak said Wednesday. 

A spokesperson for Scott declined to comment.

It is possible for governors to take a Senate seat for themselves when a vacancy occurs. But voters generally don’t look kindly on that.

It’s happened only once in South Carolina.

In April 1965, then-Gov. Donald Russell resigned following the death of U.S. Sen. Olin Johnston, allowing Russell’s lieutenant governor to ascend to governor and appoint him to the empty Senate seat.

But Russell didn’t stay in the Senate long.

He was ousted from the seat by Fritz Hollings in the 1966 Democratic primary. Hollings not only fulfilled the rest of Johnston’s term but remained South Carolina’s senator for 38 years, making him the eighth longest-serving U.S. senator in history as of his death in 2019. (When Hollings retired in 2004, voters elected DeMint to replace him.)

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