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Jim DeMint's Support of Tea Party Candidates Could Boost His Senate Profile

3 years ago
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When Marco Rubio embarked on his campaign for the Republican nomination in the U.S. Senate race in Florida, he had very little public support among Republican power brokers, who overwhelmingly backed Charlie Crist, Florida governor and odds-on favorite at the time.

Enter Jim DeMint.

The junior Republican senator from South Carolina, who has developed a reputation for bucking authority in the Capitol, met with Rubio, the former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, in Washington on May 12, 2009. DeMint liked what he heard enough to endorse Rubio a month later. Rubio now has a commanding lead in the polls over Democrat Kendrick Meek and independent Crist, who bolted the GOP when it became clear he would lose to Rubio in the primary.

Rubio is among candidates DeMint has backed in the midterm elections as part of a multimillion-dollar effort to push the Senate's Republican caucus to the right. Those candidates -- mostly associated with the Tea Party movement -- also could help DeMint consolidate a leadership role in the Senate, assuming some or all of them win.

DeMint's early support of the then-relatively unknown Rubio did not go unnoticed. Across the country, other outsider, conservative hopefuls approached DeMint, looking for help in their battles against the establishment.

"There was a line of candidates down the street who wanted to talk to him," said Matt Hoskins, a spokesman for DeMint's political action committee, the Senate Conservatives Fund.

In an effort to bring more like-minded conservatives to the Senate, DeMint endorsed and funded alternative candidates in Republican primaries throughout the country. His Senate Conservatives Fund is still supporting 10 of these candidates in their general election bids, and all but one, Delaware's Christine O'Donnell, are either leading in the polls or in very competitive races.

When the victors arrive in Washington in January -- and political analysts project four to nine of the DeMint picks will win -- they will bring with them a heightened level of influence and power for their benefactor within the Republican Party.

DeMint's goal throughout the election season has been to steer the Senate to the right. With his own re-election assured well before the Nov. 2 vote, DeMint focused his efforts on raising money for the types of conservatives he'd like to serve with in the Senate, especially those with an appetite for reigning in the federal budget. DeMint regularly found himself the only national Republican supporting certain candidates.

"He was the first one," said Owen Loftus, spokesman for Ken Buck, the Republican nominee for Senate in Colorado. "It wasn't until after the primary that others followed."

And DeMint has given more than his name to these candidates. Hoskins estimated that the Senate Conservatives Fund has spent more than $4 million so far on the 10 Senate candidates DeMint is backing.

In the process of nudging the Senate to the right, DeMint almost inevitably will provide a boost to his own influence within the chamber.

"DeMint is a faction leader now," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "He'll have some votes. When you have votes that you can potentially deliver, you have power."

Sabato and other Beltway experts foresee the formation of a small but outspoken Tea Party caucus within the Senate Republicans. The belief is that these new senators will regularly side with DeMint because of a shared view of the role of government and, perhaps, a sense of debt.

"They will come in with sort of a natural affinity in terms of their ideas," said Robert Oldendick, a professor of political science at the University of South Carolina. "Plus, given the role that DeMint is playing in each of their campaigns, there is some kind of, 'OK, I owe some chips to this guy.' So he has become the de facto leader of this."

Hoskins insisted that DeMint's support of these candidates comes with no strings attached. But he expressed optimism that an influx of DeMint-backed candidates could change the direction of the Republican caucus in the Senate.

"I think you're going to see maybe a little more fight from the Republican Party in terms of its principles," Hoskins said. "A lot of people just focus on the numbers but in the Senate sometimes you don't need to have 50 votes. You need three people willing to stand up and speak out on something. If you've got that you can begin to rally the American people and before long you have 50 votes."

Some observers question DeMint's motives in getting so involved in the midterm elections. They claim DeMint is angling to become the Republican leader in the Senate or even to run for president. But Hoskins said DeMint's sole goal is to pack with the Senate with fellow hard-right conservatives.

"He wants to support these candidates to strengthen the Senate," Hoskins said.

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21 Comments

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andrc657

Republican Jim DeMint's state of South Carolina is one of the poorest in the nation. Republican policies have not been very effective in helping this state. Boosting DeMint's senate profile might be good for his ego but it doesn't seem to be helping South Carolinians!

October 15 2010 at 1:47 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
avrt

Jim DeMint had nothing to do with Marco Rubio's ascension in Flarda. Soon to be Senator Rubio had been in politics in Flarda for awhile. Additionally, he, along with some ohthers, proposed a tax plan for the citizens of Flarda that logically held back the rising property taxes that were occuring. That is when he caught the eye of many conservative voters. It was that action that caused many of us to KNOW that we had a real conservative on our hands and not some "wishy washy"/"politics as usual" candidate. Again, Jim DeMint had nothing to do with Rubio's popularity.

October 14 2010 at 1:41 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
tehelms

DeMint is an anarchist masquerading as a Senator. Hoskins says DeMint wants to "help" the Senate? I think he wants to shut down anything that will help restore the economy, help to elect more anarchists who will drive taxes down for the rich and corporations and destroy the middle class American.

October 14 2010 at 1:26 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
wongtpa

DeMint should be voted as Senate majority Leader!

October 14 2010 at 12:59 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
Michael

Strengthen the senate??? how about weaken it through extremist ideology. Interesting that these people what less government except they want to be able to tell the rest of us what to do, what god to believe in and what we can or cannot do with our bodies. can you say HYPOCRITES!

October 14 2010 at 12:46 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Michael's comment
cfbuck220

Afraid of change? No, just change that does not have Obama involved. I still have never seen a tea partier be rude, obnoxious, or hurl insults like democrats do. Extremist ideology? You mean less government, lower taxes, more jobs - yeah, that is extremist alright. I think the only extremist thing I have seen this year is pass that health care reform bill so we can read it. NOW that has stupidity written all over it.

October 14 2010 at 1:45 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
openvisions55

Maybe we all can start by asking a few questions to the Republican Party. How are you going to change things? All I hear is what mistakes the democrats are making. What are you going to do and how will you do it. We know you didn’t do it when Bush was in office. Remember you vote no on everything Obama has tried to do. Second, why did some republican states take stimulus money and hold on to it instead of creating jobs? So will power in office help you to help us? Third, you say you care for the American people, if you can raise millions of dollars in each state for campaigns, why didn’t you raise the money before now and help people out with foreclosures. It’s like you raise money just for yourself and the hell with us. Why did you sit back and not help Bush when you saw what was going on. You knew Cheney was nowhere to be found and to me Bush was working alone. You could have helped, so we wouldn’t be in the place we are now. You knew we were all in trouble and did nothing, but now since Obama is in office, you want to help and complain. Why? Why? Why? So now you state you want to take your country back. Not our country but yours. If it took more than 8 years to get in trouble its going to take more that 4 years to get back on track. People say no jobs but from New York to Virginia and Maryland to Chicago there is a ton of construction jobs going on. 4 new casinos and new stores. So that’s a few jobs. It depends on the state and the governor of that state to use the stimulus money to help people. Some states are doing just that. What happened to the red states? People are not investigating. They just listen to these dumb ads and act.

October 14 2010 at 12:43 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
hgurnsr

DeMint isn't bucking authority so much as bucking sanity. LISTEN to his ideas, please. Is this a sane individual ?

October 14 2010 at 12:27 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
aatrapsupply

JIM DEMINT IS A CREDIT TO AMERICA. WE NEED MORE OF HIM . THANKS JIM FOR YOUR CORAGE AND WHAT YOU DO

October 14 2010 at 12:19 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
gserlin

If the DeMint backed candidates win, I hope they will be libertarians, not conservatives. Unlike conservatives, libertarians do not support right wing issues, such as foreign wars, govt support of religion and right to life.

October 14 2010 at 11:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dollarsinthebank

I'm hoping that veterans and active duty people take a long, hard look at DeMint before considering backing this guy. Check his voting record on issues that affect veterans and their families. He has voted NO consistently on veteran issues. There are veteran groups, such as the DAV, that have given him their lowest grade, (F) based on his voting record. It's obvious that DeMint sees active duty and veterans as wasteful spending and an easy way to reduce the deficit. Far too many of us realized long ago that we have to judge politicians by their actions and not their words. DeMint epitomizes that concept.

October 14 2010 at 10:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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