WASHINGTON — Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican who's emerged as a national tea party leader, came close to quitting Congress after one term because of his wife's difficult battle with cancer and bitter clashes with other GOP senators over his slash-and-burn tactics to cut federal spending.
But Debbie DeMint, the senator's high school sweetheart, told him he couldn't abandon the anti-government cause he'd come to view as a mission from God.
"To my amazement, Debbie said we couldn't quit," DeMint wrote in his new book, "The Great American Awakening."
"So we spent those special moments at the end of (2009) praying and asking God to help us through the next year of campaigning," he wrote. "We had no idea He would answer our prayer in such a clear and wonderful way."
Within a year, DeMint was overwhelming re-elected to the Senate, joined by five tea party candidates he had helped bankroll over Republican mainstream choices in a conservative uprising that has bolstered his clout.
DeMint had expected a grueling campaign against Vic Rawl, a former state judge and legislator, but instead faced Alvin Greene, an unemployed Army veteran who had been indicted on obscenity charges of having shown pornography to a female student in a University of South Carolina computer lab.
"It looked like my reelection might not be the long, hard, expensive, negative campaign I feared," DeMint wrote.
The charges were dropped last month.
Addressing another bizarre chapter in South Carolina politics, DeMint says his one-time friend, former Gov. Mark Sanford, made a fool of himself with his extramarital affair with an Argentine mistress.
DeMint watched with dismay as Sanford returned from Buenos Aires in June 2009 after a six-day absence and held a hastily arranged, tearful news conference.
"Instead of remorse, he gave excuses for his infidelity," DeMint wrote.
"He rambled on and on, and every word was more insulting and embarrassing to his wife and children. I could hardly watch as another friend and conservative stalwart crashed and burned on national television."
Sanford spurned DeMint's advice to resign, saying Jenny had urged him to stay in office.
"I wasn't convinced he was telling the truth, but there was nothing else I could do," DeMint wrote.
The couple soon separated and later divorced.
The senator's book, released last Monday, is the second DeMint book in three years timed for publication on July 4th (or Independence Day).
Among other prominent Republicans he calls friends but skewers on ideological grounds are former Sens. Arlen Specter (now a Democrat) of Pennsylvania and Bob Bennett of Utah; Sens. Dan Coats of Indiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas; and former Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware.
In a typical swipe, DeMint wrote: "Murkowski is a friend, but she was an appropriator who fought every effort to limit (funding) earmarks and spending."
The former marketing firm owner engages in a running debate with historians and analysts who, he says, misrepresent the United States as a secular nation with a government divorced from religion.
DeMint claims that the American Independence drive was "led by priests;" the Founding Fathers were more religious than commonly portrayed; and the Constitution doesn't require separation of church and state.
"Big government is a religious issue," DeMint wrote. "History shows (that) in nations where there is a big government, there is a little God."
In a long book section, DeMint pays homage to President Ronald Reagan in describing his August 2010 visit to the conservative icon's former ranch in Southern California.
DeMint expresses regret that he had never met Reagan before his 2004 death, but says the ranch visit made him feel like he'd known Dutch.
Noting that he himself "grew up riding horses," DeMint wrote: "We enjoy many of the same things. He saw God in the beauty around him, and he genuinely loved people. He loved his country and was passionate about freedom. And he loved being alone with his wife."
Because DeMint attributes these traits to himself at various points in the book, the comparison might fire the hopes of conservative activists pushing him to run for president.
While DeMint has said he holds no White House ambitions, he notes a key moment when he and Specter attended a GOP gathering in the former senator's state.
"Once when I was speaking a Republican event in Pennsylvania, he wrote on my program, 'One day you will be president.'"
Such admiration did Specter little good: DeMint decided to back Specter's GOP primary opponent, former Rep. Pat Toomey, because Toomey was more conservative.
Specter left the Republican Party and lost in the Democratic primary to then-Rep. Joe Sestak, whom Toomey defeated in the general election.
Toomey is now a DeMint acolyte with four other freshmen — led by rising star Marco Rubio of Florida — that DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund helped elect to make him feel less isolated in what had been "a lonely struggle" to cut the federal government down to size.
ON THE WEB
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY