Leading the charge for GOP insurgents

Posted on May 03, 2010

Santa Barbara is about as far from Greenville, S.C., as you can get in the continental United States, but Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) cares more about principle than geography. He is leading a conservative insurgency across America. Speaking at the David Horowitz Freedom Center's annual retreat here late last month, DeMint told the faithful that if they want to return to the principles of limited government, they need to elect people who believe in limited government: "I came into the Senate with 55 Republicans, George W. Bush in the White House and large majorities of Republicans in the House, and we didn't do what we promised," he said. "We're not going to change the Senate until we change the people who are there."

His vehicle for change is the Senate Conservatives Fund. Most senators have "leadership PACs" -- incumbency machines they use to raise money for each other. DeMint, by contrast, is using his PAC to support conservative underdogs running against establishment Republicans. He got the idea in 2008 while making fundraising calls at the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). Donors told him bluntly they would not give the GOP a dime until it returned to conservative principles. He began asking: What if there was a PAC that would give only to conservative candidates? The Senate Conservatives Fund was born. DeMint raised $1.3 million in 2009 and has set a goal of raising another $3 million in 2010 -- all of it going to insurgent candidates shunned by the GOP establishment.

His first endorsement was to support a primary bid against one of his then-Republican colleagues, Arlen Specter. DeMint backed former Rep. Pat Toomey (disclosure: I once worked for Toomey), and Specter soon switched parties to run as Democrat. Soon after that, the NRSC recruited popular Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to run for Senate. DeMint backed Marco Rubio, who was then 30 points down in the polls. Rubio soon surged ahead of Crist, and the Florida governor announced last week he was bolting the GOP primary to make an independent run.

DeMint's success in these races gave the Senate Conservatives Fund credibility, and he has since charged into several more races. DeMint endorsed State Assemblyman Chuck Devore in the California Senate primary against liberal Republican Tom Campbell and the NRSC-favored candidate, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. On April 14, DeMint endorsed Colorado District Attorney Ken Buck in his race against the NRSC-favored candidate, former lieutenant governor Jane Norton. And on April 21, he endorsed State Sen. Marlin Stutzman in tomorrow's Indiana GOP primary against the NRSC's candidate, former senator Dan Coats. In a matter of days, DeMint raised nearly $220,000 for Stutzman, which he hopes has made the race competitive. "I'm not sure if I got in soon enough," he says.

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