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For Tim Scott, incumbency is best campaign tool

October 19, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Tim Scott has had virtually no opposition as he marches toward winning the remaining two years in the term of former Sen. Jim DeMint. And, given his name recognition and incumbent status, the South Carolina Republican has been able to rely less on campaigning and more on the visibility that accompanies his official duties.

Scott is seeking to add two years to his tenure — what’s left of the term of DeMint, who left the Senate in January 2013 to take the helm of the Heritage Foundation. Scott had just won a second U.S House term when Gov. Nikki Haley appointed him to DeMint’s seat.

The election marks South Carolina’s first-ever U.S. Senate contest between two black major-party candidates. Scott’s Democratic opponent, Richland County Councilwoman Joyce Dickerson, has done some campaigning but remains mostly unknown outside of the Columbia area, hamstrung by negligible finances. The most recent fundraising totals showed her with less than $3,000 on hand. Scott had more than $3.6 million.

Scott’s strong position allows him to do his senatorial job and save his multimillion-dollar campaign war chest for a likely full-term run in another two years.

“He’s not spending money he doesn’t need to spend,” said Gibbs Knotts, a political science professor at the College of Charleston. “Dickerson just doesn’t have the statewide name recognition and doesn’t have the financing.”

In the U.S. House and the South Carolina House before that, Scott represented coastal constituents and had limited statewide exposure. Earlier this year, Scott’s campaign pressed to get him exposure throughout the state, visiting all 46 counties.

Throughout those visits, Scott spoke of fostering success for South Carolinians from all walks of life. He’s run the same message for months now in television ads, focusing on his ability to connect with “everyday people.”

While he’s done some traditional campaigning, in the waning weeks of the general election campaign, Scott’s public appearances in South Carolina have focused primarily on the official business of being a senator. Earlier this month, he participated in a round table discussion with the Pee Dee Black Chamber of Commerce in Florence, as well as the grand opening of an elementary school in North Charleston. In the coming week, he’s kicking off a series of workshops aimed at helping veterans prepare for and find civilian jobs.

In a written statement, Scott said he’s taking the campaign seriously and running ads statewide, but added that, “my job is to represent South Carolina in the Senate. Just because there is a campaign does not mean I am going to stop carrying out my official duties.”

“Scott’s in a great position,” Knotts said. “Scott’s in the right party. He’s in the right state. ... It makes sense that he’s doing as well as he’s doing.”

History tends to favor Republicans in South Carolina. A Democrat hasn’t beaten a GOP incumbent here since 1998, and a sitting U.S. senator hasn’t lost a race in the state in nearly 50 years.

A recent Winthrop University poll had Scott with more than 52 percent, compared to Dickerson’s nearly 32 percent. With American Party candidate Jill Bossi, who is white, polling in the single digits, South Carolina is poised to elect its first black candidate in a statewide race since Reconstruction.

Dickerson has made appearances across the state but said she’s been ignored by national groups that traditionally back Democratic nominees. She said she’s received lots of support but hasn’t been able to afford television or radio advertising, relying instead on small group appearances.

“We’re just having fun,” Dickerson told The Associated Press recently. “People are really happy that they have an alternative.”


Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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