South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint's announcement that he will resign from the Senate to head the Heritage Foundation put the spotlight on and directly impacted some of South Carolina's most prominent politicians and rising conservative stars, and they immediately reacted to his resignation.
Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC), whom many consider to be the leading contender to replace DeMint, said he wanted to “thank Senator DeMint for the tremendous work he has done on behalf of South Carolina and the nation.”
“His commitment to conservative principles leaves a true legacy, and I have greatly enjoyed getting to know and work with him over the past two years,” Scott said.
Scott added: “Looking forward, Governor Haley will now appoint a new Senator, and I know she will make the right choice both for South Carolina and the nation.”
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) will appoint DeMint's successor, and she said DeMint has “served South Carolina and the national conservative movement exceptionally well."
“His voice for freedom and limited government has been a true inspiration,” Haley said. "Our state’s loss is the Heritage Foundation’s gain.”
Haley's appointment will set the stage for 2014 in South Carolina, when a special election will be held for DeMint's seat.
If Haley appoints a moderate or a place holder who will not run for a full six-year term, conservatives who had been considering challenging moderate Republican Senator Lindsey Graham in 2014 may instead run for DeMint's seat, diluting the potential field of Graham opponents. If Haley appoints a conservative -- like Scott -- Graham may still be vulnerable to a primary challenge. On the other hand, one school of thought says that South Carolina has so many conservatives who are rising stars that Graham may be vulnerable regardless of who succeeds DeMint and increased enthusiasm in the South Carolina's 2014 GOP primary will help the conservative who may potentially challenge Graham.
Graham, on the Senate floor, said South Carolina lost a "strong conservative voice," and he was "stunned" by DeMint's announcement.
South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R) is another candidate who may potentially run for one of Senate seats, and he said he was “surprised” by the news and called DeMint a “strong conservative voice” who “leaves big shoes to be filled.”
“I am proud to have worked with Senator DeMint and I will continue to call him a friend and a mentor in the years to come,” Mulvaney said.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who gained national notoriety for his fierce questioning of Attorney General Eric Holder during the Fast and Furious hearings, said DeMint “was more than a congressional colleague” and has “been a friend dating back to 1998 when I met him during his initial run for congress.”
“He has been a mentor for scores of conservatives at all levels of government,” Gowdy said. “He is simply put one of the most decent, kind, humble men I have ever been privileged to know.”
Gowdy said he knows Haley “will make the decision that is best for South Carolina, and I pray the Lord will give her wisdom.”
Many conservatives are pushing Gowdy to run for higher office, but he said he hoped Haley would appoint one of his South Carolina Republican colleagues in the House to DeMint's seat.
“There are scores of talented women and men in South Carolina who are qualified to be considered,” Gowdy said. “I hope [Gov. Haley] will consider my four congressional colleagues Tim Scott, Mick Mulvaney, Jeff Duncan, or Joe Wilson.”
South Carolina GOP Chair Chad Connelly said DeMint is a “a small businessman who ran for Congress to change the way Washington works,” and he succeeded “without question.”
“Senator DeMint is a conservative rock star. At the Heritage Foundation, he will be in an even greater position to spark revolutionary change,” Connelly said.