COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley ordered a special election to fill the congressional seat being vacated as Tim Scott becomes South Carolina’s next senator, said her spokesman Rob Godfrey.
Haley signed the executive order Wednesday morning, which sets the timeline for the special election.
“Gov. Haley expects there will be a spirited race with many candidates, and she hopes voters will choose a good conservative in the Tim Scott tradition,” Godfrey said.
Scott officially resigned from his coastal 1st District seat in a letter dated Dec. 28, with an effective date of Jan. 2.
Haley named Scott on Dec. 17 as her choice to replace resigning Sen. Jim DeMint, who is leaving office to take the helm of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Haley’s appointment lasts until 2014, when South Carolina’s first black U.S. senator will face a special election to fulfill the remaining two years of DeMint’s term.
Haley’s order means party primaries for Scott’s former seat from the coastal district will be March 19. Any necessary runoffs would be April 2. The general election will be May 7.
The state Election Commission estimates that the special election will cost between $800,000 and $1 million. The agency does not have money in its budget for that and is working with the state budget office to determine how to fund it, said agency spokesman Chris Whitmire.
State GOP Party Chairman Chad Connelly has said 14 Republicans had expressed interest in running, as of Dec. 21.
Potential candidates include former Gov. Mark Sanford, who told the AP in an e-mail Dec. 22 that he was seriously considering a run for his former congressional seat.
Sanford represented the 1st District for three terms before being elected governor in 2002. The term-limited governor left office in 2011, after avoiding impeachment but being censured by the Legislature.
The former governor would bring name recognition and money to the race — two things especially important due to the short campaign season and wide-open field. The question is whether voters are willing to welcome him back into politics, three years after he returned from a five-day disappearance from the state to confess an affair with a woman in Argentina. They became engaged last year.
State Democratic Party executive director Amanda Loveday said a handful of Democrats have expressed interest in running.
One Republican mentioned as a possible contender has said he won’t seek the seat.
Newly elected state Sen. Paul Thurmond said he wants to concentrate on the job he won in November. Thurmond, a son of the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, lost his bid for the 1st District congressional seat in a 2010 runoff with Scott. He and Scott had served together on Charleston County Council before Scott was elected to the state House in 2008.
The 1st congressional district — redrawn last year during the once-a-decade redistricting process — includes parts of Beaufort, Colleton, Charleston, Dorchester, and Berkeley counties.