Republican Sen. Jim DeMint is raising eyebrows within his own party by publicly announcing his support for conservative candidates the GOP has not officially endorsed.
DeMint's maverick streak received national attention Tuesday after he revealed that he was backing Marlin Stutzman in Indiana's Republican Senate primary. Former Sen. Dan Coats is the preferred candidate of most GOP officials.
“Marlin Stutzman is the conservative outsider in the Indiana Senate race who will take on the Washington establishment,” said DeMint, a South Carolina firebrand. “We’ve got a young conservative running for the Senate who could pull off one of the biggest upsets of the year. He’s surging because he’s an authentic conservative who doesn’t apologize for his principles.”
The Stutzman endorsement came days after DeMint announced that he was throwing his support behind conservative county prosecutor Ken Buck for a Senate seat in Colorado, over former GOP Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, who has received the party's blessing.
Before that, DeMint endorsed former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio; California state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore; and former Pennsylvania Rep. Pat Toomey. All are anti-establishment Republicans running for the U.S. Senate.
DeMint is using his political action committee Senate Conservatives Fund to help conservative candidates that he thinks will appeal to voters who have lost faith in the government and elected officials.
“I’m at the point where it doesn’t matter if we win if we don’t believe in anything,” he told The Wall Street Journal. “There’s no need to nursemaid somebody to the general election if they’re just going to come up here and vote like the Democrats do.”
Matt Hoskins, an aide to DeMint, succinctly summed up his boss' philosophy for The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza: "Senator DeMint is helping strong conservative candidates around the country who have been overlooked by the Washington establishment.”
But that perspective doesn't sit well with many party leaders, as one senior GOP strategist told Cillizza: "Many in Republican circles are still waiting for Jim DeMint to explain how, in the real world, having only 30 senators who agree with him on every issue rather than 60 Republicans who might not, would do anything to stop the Democrats from steam-rolling their agenda through Congress.”
But such criticism doesn't seem to be halting DeMint's advance. According to the Journal, DeMint may not be done challenging the conventional wisdom of GOP leaders. He reportedly is considering endorsing conservative candidates in states ranging from Kentucky to Nevada to New Hampshire.
DeMint's effort to thwart candidates backed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee runs counter to the mission of one of his GOP colleagues, Sen. John Cornyn. The Texan is the point man for the Republican Party's drive to reclaim the Senate in the midterm elections in November.
But in the battle for the party's soul, Cornyn's strategy is decidedly different from DeMint's. DeMint is supporting ideologically “purist” candidates, while Cornyn – with the party's might behind him – is backing candidates he thinks will be able to attract swing voters, and thus win in all-important swing states.
"We need candidates who can win," Cornyn told the Journal. "What we're in the business of is reinforcing our numbers, and the only way you do that is by winning elections."
DeMint, who once made a dramatic show of dumping the federal tax code book from a hot-air balloon, also is an advocate of the surging tea party movement.
In a conversation with the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody, DeMint commended the groups' spiritual aspect.
“I really think a lot of the motivation behind these tea party crowds is a spiritual component,” he told Brody. “I think it’s very akin to the Great Awakening before the American Revolution. A lot of our founders believed the American Revolution was won before we ever got into a fight with the British. It was a spiritual renewal.
“I think as this thing continues to roll you’re going to see a parallel spiritual revival that goes along with it. I think people are seeing this massive government growing and they’re realizing that it’s the government that’s hurting us, and I think they’re turning back to God.”
And while some political observers speculate that DeMint's burr-under-the-saddle moves may be evidence that he is considering a presidential run in 2012, one source said nothing could be further from the truth.
"This has nothing to do with running for president," the source told the Post's Cillizza. "Jim DeMint doesn't want to lead a government — he wants to lead a revolution."
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