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October 30, 2010 / J. Shaw

Closeup of Senator Jim DeMint

Tea Party Kingmaker Becomes Power Unto Himself…

On election night last year, South Carolina’s freshman senator, Jim DeMint, convened a conference call with 4,000 supporters to declare the next battle: conservatives had to rally behind Marco Rubio, a relative unknown who was trailing the establishment candidate in the Republican Senate primary in Florida.

A year later, Mr. Rubio is leading in Florida, having driven his primary opponent out of the Republican Party. Other DeMint-backed candidates in the House and the Senate have ridden the same anti-establishment wave from long shot to likely. And the boast that Mr. DeMint made on that call no longer seems so grandiose: “We can reshape the Republican Party.”

Financing Tea Party candidates and rallying the Tea Party faithful, Mr. DeMint has established himself as an alternate power center in Washington. And his rapid ascent has spawned a parlor game: what does Jim DeMint want?

Supporters in Tea Party straw polls and at conservative conferences have urged him to run for president. Other fans suggest that with several of his candidates poised to win, he could run for Republican leader, making official conservatives’ ascendancy within the party.

Mr. DeMint is coy about running for president — and there are plenty of others eyeing the water in the pool of conservative voters where Mr. DeMint would draw his support.

He would lack the votes to win as Senate leader; even if all the Tea Party candidates win, their caucus will be small. And many of his colleagues blame him for backing less viable Tea Party candidates who may cost the Republicans a Senate majority, making it unlikely they would give him any leadership position.



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