Black Elephants In The Room
TIM SCOTT IS IN THE HOT SEAT. As a Black Republican running for office in the South, he has his fair share of nonbelievers. Today, he faces a room of his most ardent critics–other African-Americans.
“What discouraged me is your campaign commercials, which were mostly white and maybe a token Black,” says public relations coordinator Cheryl Harleston. “I recognize your need to play to the base, but why not have more African-Americans standing there with you?”
“That’s a good question,” Scott says, his wide smile attempting to keep the mood light.
“I didn’t say I’d have a good answer,” he laughs nervously. The room, comprised of local African-American figures in education, media and business, laughs with him.
“You need to have one,” Harleston responds. Her pointed questions make it clear, she intends to make him squirm.
“You’ve proven you can get the job done,” pipes up a respected member of the clergy and a proud Democrat. “But when I listen to words like ‘Obama Care,’ ‘the Nigger plan,’ and ‘Take our country back,’ it’s offensive to me and the people that I represent.”
The members of the audience slowly nod in agreement, while Scott’s shaven head glistens with sweat. Once again, he is left to defend the rhetoric of his entire political party, including those extreme elements.
“I don’t see [the term ‘Obama Care’] as condescending. People say Bush tax cuts all the time or Reaganomics,” he walks the room past the row of round tables, giving the Rev. direct eye contact, before revealing a compromise. “I will use the term ‘National Health Care’ more than I have in the past.”
Tim Scott is the Republican Congressional nominee from South Carolina’s largely Republican 1st District who captured national headlines after proving that an African-American can win the Republican primary in the South. Scott intended for today’s meeting, held at a Charleston, S.C., hotel, to address issues such as economic power and to help bridge the gap between Black Democrats and Republicans. But this spirited crowd had different issues on their agenda. “I invited them here to not agree with me,” Scott says after the two-hour grilling. “You can’t invite a bunch of Democrats to a conservative Republican event and expect to leave singing ‘Kumbaya.’ But because I’m leaving with two-thirds of the room committed to me and five or six checks in my pocket,” he says, pulling out a few checks from his inside suit jacket, smiling broadly, “I’m cool with that.”
SCOTT, 45, HAS steadily served as a Republican for 15 years, beginning in 1995 when he became the first elected African-American Republican to County Council in South Carolina since Reconstruction era. Now, Scott is expected to win his race and become the first Black Republican congressman from the South since 1901. The last African-American to serve as a Republican congressman from any of the 50 states was J.C. Watts, a former football star who played quarterback for the Sooners and represented Oklahoma’s Fourth District until 2003.
As he nears Election Day, Scott’s list of supporters is growing. Before his primary victory, GOP lightening rod Sarah Palin gave him an unsolicited cosign via a Facebook post:
“Tim has a remarkable success story. He grew up in poverty and was raised by a single mom who struggled to provide.” She went on, “ Tim is a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, pro-development, Common Sense Conservative.”
Scott wavers before answering a question about Palin’s impact on his Republican primary win. “It was two days before the election,” he shrugs. “We were already up 59 to 31 in all the polls.”
The conservative action group South Carolina Club for Growth, which is a major fund-raiser for conservative causes, gave Scott a rare grade of “A” for his conservative principles. His candidacy has also been buoyed by support from the Tea Party, the loosely associated groups of fiscally conservative activists. The Tea Party first came to the attention of many in the Black community when signs of Obama depicted as a monkey or donning a Hitler mustache began showing up at their rallies. In March, Black congressmen reported being spat on and being called “nigger” by Tea Party demonstrators as they walked the Capitol mall to cast their votes on the health care bill. While these claims have been disputed by Tea Party organizers, the NAACP has called for the Tea Party’s leadership to denounce racist messages within their ranks. Scott thinks Blacks just don’t understand the Tea Party or the Republican message, for that matter.
“[Black people] are weary of the association or affiliation with the Republican Party,” Scott says after his mini Black summit. “It’s like when I talked about fiscal responsibility everybody was saying amen. I talked about insanity of spending, they’re all happy about that. I talked about entrepreneurship and they loved it. I talked about limiting the role of government, they were okay with that as well. That is the Tea Party message,” he says, setting up one of his well-worn punch lines. “Welcome to the tea party.”
Where does Scott stand on other hot-button issues?