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South Carolina's New Senator A Tea Party Favorite, Staunch Obama Critic

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South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley named a fellow Republican, Rep. Tim Scott, as the state's next senator on Monday. He replaces retiring Republican Sen. Jim DeMint and will make history as the first black senator from the South since 1881.

Haley, however, wanted everyone to know her selection was based on Scott's merit, not his race.

"He earned this seat for the results he has shown," Haley said at a news conference announcing her choice. "He earned this seat for what I know he's going to do in making South Carolina and making our country proud."

Scott said his skin color has never been an issue for South Carolina voters.

"A few years ago, the 1st District gave me an opportunity to represent their issues and their values," Scott said. "And what I have not ever really heard on the campaign trail was ... 'because you're black, here's what we want to do.' I think it speaks to the evolution of South Carolina and of our nation."

Scott was one of two black Republicans to ride the Tea Party wave into Congress in 2010. The other was Allen West of Florida, who lost a close re-election race in November.

Scott grew up poor in Charleston, an experience he says helped shape his views on the role of government. At a meeting of black conservatives earlier this year, Scott said that growing up, he learned that "the more government came to help me, the less individually responsible I was going to be for myself."

Scott touts a Tea Party message of drastically smaller government, and beyond that he has endeared himself to many conservatives with his willingness to criticize President Obama.

Scott's record on fiscal issues has also left an impression on many within his party. Tea Party Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky thinks Scott can help the GOP improve its poor standing with black voters.

"It's a good idea for us, and it will help us make inroads where we don't seem to have been doing very well lately with the African-American vote," Paul says.

Up to now, Scott has been known for defending fellow Republicans even when their comments strike other black Americans as racially tinged. One such case arose during the Republican presidential primary season, when candidate Newt Gingrich said "the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps."

In an interview with NPR, Scott said what he heard Gingrich say was that "all Americans should have a work ethic that matches the global competitive nature that we're going into."

When he arrived on Capitol Hill, Scott decided against joining the Congressional Black Caucus, where members tend to embrace the role of government, like South Carolina's other black representative, Democrat James Clyburn.

"Any theory that things would be hunky-dory if the government gets out of the way run contrary to my beliefs," Clyburn says.

Clyburn and Scott may not agree on much, but Clyburn says they're still friends, and he adds that Scott will be a good fit for DeMint's seat.

How good a fit he is will be tested soon, as Scott will have to defend the seat in 2014.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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