NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — Congressman Bobby Scott is trying to make clear he’s interested in a U.S. Senate seat that’s not even open without sounding presumptuous.
Should Hillary Clinton defeat Republican Donald Trump to win the White House, her running mate, Tim Kaine, would leave his senate seat up for grabs. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, will get to pick a replacement, who would then have to win a 2017 election to keep the seat and run again in 2018.
Scott is the obvious choice. He’s a party elder among state Democrats, having served in Virginia’s General Assembly starting in the 1970s before becoming a Congressman in 1993. He’s also Virginia’s first black congressman since Reconstruction and would be the state’s first black senator.
At a recent campaign stop greeting workers outside the Newport News shipyard, Scott initially said that his full attention is toward winning re-election to the House next week, when he faces off against Republican Marty Williams.
But a moment later, Scott said he’s more than up to the task if selected by McAuliffe to replace Kaine.
“Somebody’s got to do it. I think I can do it better than anybody else,” Scott said.
His supporters agree. At the shipyard, members of the United Steelworkers Local 8888 showed up to remind the welders, plumbers and others working at one of the state’s largest employers that Scott has been a long-time ally.
Union member Butch Cassidy said Scott’s been both a friend to labor and a tireless worker at steering federal defense contracts to his military dependent district.
“He really looks out for us,” Cassidy said.
Union president Arnold Outlaw introduced Scott as “our next senator” to workers hurrying in for the start of the early shift.
“He already represents Virginia, but he’s going to all the way,” Outlaw said.
Not everyone seemed convinced. One passing worker responded with a one-word reply: “Trump.”
Just how Scott, a soft-spoken Harvard-educated lawyer, would survive a tough statewide campaign in today’s highly charged political climate is unclear. Scott has never faced any electoral challenge even remotely close to what a 2017 senate race would look like, said Quentin Kidd, a political science professor at Christopher Newport University.
Kidd said McAuliffe will not only have to answer to his Virginia constituency, but also to the national party, which will want to ensure the seat stays blue.
There will be keen national attention on a potential 2017 race, as it would be the only one in the country and could help determine the balance of power in the Senate.
But Kidd added that McAuliffe would also risk alienating black voters in Virginia if he bypasses Scott for someone else. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Doug Wilder, Virginia’s first black governor, have endorsed Scott to be Kaine’s would-be successor.
“The backlash would be pretty severe,” Kidd said.
The governor has said he won’t even talk about the pick until after Election Day, but has indicated that numerous people are interested. Other potential picks frequently mentioned include Rep. Don Beyer, a wealthy Northern Virginia congressman, and Molly Ward, Virginia’s current secretary of natural resources.
Republican interest also will likely be intense, with potential candidates including Reps. Dave Brat and Barbara Comstock and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
Scott is trying making clear he’s up to the task. He recently started a leadership political action committee to help raise more money, and has been increasing his visibility around the state in areas far from the 3rd Congressional District he represents, which stretches from the Richmond area to Hampton Roads.
In recent weeks, Scott’s been to coal country in Southwest Virginia to talk about black lung, and to Northern Virginia for a political fundraiser aimed at celebrating immigration.
Scott said he’s well aware of how intense a senate race next year could be, but said he’s one of the hardest working members in Congress and can handle the pressure.
“I wouldn’t run if I didn’t think I could win,” Scott said. “This is a lot of work for nothing.”
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