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December 7, 2012

DeMint exit pulls conservative hero, political thorn from Senate

Sen. Jim DeMint of Greenville, a hero to conservative activists nationwide for his vehement anti-government voice and willingness to confront even fellow Republicans, surprised colleagues Thursday by saying he will resign from the Senate to run an influential inside-the-Beltway think tank.

DeMint will leave Congress in the next month. This spring, he will take over the Heritage Foundation, a prominent advocacy group.

DeMint worked closely with the group during his rapid rise from virtually unknown lawmaker to a conservative kingmaker, bankrolling Senate candidates and defying party leaders in order to slash federal spending.

DeMint’s exit frees the Senate’s Republican leadership from a frequent political irritant. But DeMint’s new role puts him in position to forcefully push the conservative agenda.

“One of the most rewarding things I’ve done in the Senate is work with the grass-roots to help elect a new generation of leaders who have the courage to fight for the principles of freedom that make this country so great,” DeMint said in a statement. “I’m confident these senators will continue the legacy of conservative leaders before them.”

Sen. Tea Party

DeMint became known as “Sen. Tea Party” for his rock-ribbed opposition to congressional spending earmarks, immigration reform and the landmark-health care bill that Obama signed into law in 2010. He easily won re-election to a second term that year.

DeMint’s passionate following among conservatives across the country helped him become a champion fundraiser. His Senate Conservatives Fund spent more than $25 million to help propel eight candidates to the Senate in the 2010 and 2012 elections.

Haley to name successor

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, R-Lexington, will appoint DeMint’s replacement to serve alongside senior U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Seneca Republican.

DeMint’s seat – and Haley’s and Graham’s – will be on the ballot in the next statewide election, in 2014.

Some prominent S.C. politicians speculated Thursday that Haley might resign as governor and then be appointed U.S. senator by Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, who would replace her as the state government’s top executive.

But Haley ruled that out. “No, I will not be appointing myself,” she told a radio station. “That is not even an option, not something I’m considering at all.”

Another possible successor is U.S. Rep. Tim Scott of Charleston, the only African-American Republican in Congress, a scenario DeMint reportedly was pushing behind the scenes.

Scott and South Carolina’s other three Republican House freshmen, all strong Tea Party supporters, have looked to DeMint for guidance, frequently holding strategy sessions with him since coming to Washington almost two years ago. U.S. Reps. Mick Mulvaney of Indian Land and Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg could be possible DeMint successors.

Some leading conservative activists had prodded DeMint to run for president this year, but he said he wanted instead to help elect true conservatives to the Senate. However, in an interview last week, DeMint declined to rule out a future White House run.

Huge pay raise in offing?

DeMint said he will leave the Senate next month, before the start of the next congressional session, an important date because it means, under S.C. law, that whoever Haley appoints as his replacement will have to run for re-election in 2014 instead of in 2016, when DeMint’s second term would have ended.

For DeMint, the job change could mean a nearly sixfold pay increase from his current Senate salary of $174,000. Feulner earned just more than $1 million in 2010, according to the 990 tax form the Heritage Foundation is required to file with the IRS as a nonprofit group.

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