(CNN) – Saying she was "convinced…he was the right U.S. senator for our state and for our country," Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina announced Monday she was appointing GOP Rep. Tim Scott as Sen. Jim DeMint's successor.
Speaking at the South Carolina state house in Columbia, Haley said the conservative Republican had "earned the seat" by virtue of his personality and record. Scott will become the Senate's only African-American member and the GOP's second African-American senator since Reconstruction.
DeMint announced earlier this month he would resign from his Senate seat by January 1 to lead The Heritage Foundation, a leading conservative think tank in Washington. Scott will fill the Senate spot until a special election takes place in November 2014, with the winner of that contest serving the remaining two years of DeMint's second term.
On Monday, Scott said he was grateful for God and for his mother, who raised him alone while working 16-hour days, and who he said "believed that sometimes love has to come at the end of a switch."
"And she loved me a lot," Scott said, adding she helped him build "strength and understanding" through her hard work and dedication to her children.
Haley's shortlist of contenders included Scott, along with Rep. Trey Gowdy, former state Attorney General Henry McMaster, former South Carolina First Lady Jenny Sanford and Catherine Templeton, a conservative attorney chosen by Haley to head the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
In the days following DeMint's announcement, the GOP governor also jokingly hit back against comedian Stephen Colbert, who expressed interest in running for the seat in his native state.
Scott had emerged as a favorite of national grassroots conservatives. DeMint has long viewed Scott, a former state legislator who was first elected to Congress in 2010 with the help of tea party activists and national conservative groups, as a rising star and protégé.
DeMint said Monday he has been inspired by Scott since the first time he saw him speak in public, and that the country "needs those voices to encourage people there is a way out of quagmire we're in."
"Thank you for being willing to do this," DeMint said.
National tea party groups also approved of the choice - the Tea Party Patriots wrote Scott "has taken our core values seriously in the House and we have every reason to expect similar, principled behavior in the Senate."
In the days before making her selection, Haley said she would not consider a "placeholder" senator who would pledge to only hold the office until the special election, and on Monday Scott said he was looking forward to traveling the state ahead of the 2014 election to meet new constituents.
"The future is incredibly bright for America," Scott said. "We have our challenges, we have our things that we have to overcome. But boy does the future look great in South Carolina."
DeMint, a kingmaker among conservatives, is highly influential and well-beloved in the tea party movement, and has been a thorn in the side of establishment Republicans. In 2009, he was the first to endorse Marco Rubio of Florida in his 2010 Senate bid, at the time that the National Republican Senatorial Committee was backing Florida Gov. Charlie Christ.
He was also a powerhouse in the 2012 election. He held a highly-sought endorsement in congressional races and used his super PAC, Senate Conservatives Fund, to back tea party favorites in GOP primaries. Among his picks were successful Senate newcomers Ted Cruz of Texas, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Debbie Fischer of Nebraska.
"I know I'm leaving the Senate better than I found it with some real leaders," DeMint said, referring to his role in "stocking the Senate with solid conservatives."
- CNN's Paul Steinhauser, Sam Feist, Mark Preston, Kevin Liptak and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.