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With Nikki Haley and Tim Scott, will South Carolina runoffs make history?

Nikki Haley, an Indian-American woman, and Tim Scott, a black man, look positioned to win their respective races Tuesday in GOP runoffs in South Carolina. Their rise is a window into a changing state.

By Staff writer / June 22, 2010

South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin wave to supporters during a campaign rally at the statehouse in Columbia, S.C. on May 14. Haley and Congressional candidate Tim Scott look positioned to win their respective races Tuesday in GOP runoffs in South Carolina.

Mary Ann Chastain/AP/File

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Washington

South Carolina is expected to make history Tuesday night, with an Indian-American woman, Nikki Haley, and a black man, Tim Scott, both apparently heading toward Republican nomination in their respective races.

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Ms. Haley, a state legislator, was given little chance of winning the GOP nomination for governor just a few months ago, and soared into the lead after she was endorsed by Jenny Sanford, the ex-wife of Gov. Mark Sanford (R), and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin – and also faced unsubstantiated accusations of marital infidelity, which appeared to backfire and build sympathy for her. She fell just shy of a majority against three male opponents in the primary two weeks ago and faces a head-to-head runoff Tuesday against Rep. Gresham Barrett.

Tim Scott, another state legislator, is also expected to win his runoff race for the GOP nomination in the First Congressional District against Paul Thurmond, a member of the Charleston City Council – and the youngest child of the late, legendary Sen. Strom Thurmond (R). That Senator Thurmond’s son may well be defeated by a black man presents no small irony in a state with a heavily freighted racial history. The elder Thurmond ran for president in 1948 on the segregationist “Dixiecrat” ticket.

“Tim Scott is the bigger story,” says David Woodard, a political scientist at Clemson University in Greenville, S.C., and a Republican strategist, noting that Mr. Scott’s district is heavily white.

If elected in November, Scott would be Congress’s first black Republican since Rep. J.C. Watts (R) of Oklahoma retired in 2003. Not only is Scott a Republican, he is backed by the conservative Club for Growth and some "tea party" groups.

Mr. Woodard says Scott’s race is an asset in a year noteworthy for its conservative backlash against the Obama administration and the Bush years, which many conservatives have disavowed.

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