Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a staunch conservative and tea party favorite, announced Thursday that he would step down in January to head the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. DeMint, a leading Republican voice in the Senate, was first elected to his seat in 2004, and easily won re-election in 2010.
“It’s been an honor to serve the people of South Carolina in the United States Senate for the past eight years, but now it’s time for me to pass the torch to someone else and take on a new role in the fight for America’s future,” DeMint said in a statement. “I’ve decided to join the Heritage Foundation at a time when the conservative movement needs strong leadership in the battle of ideas. No organization is better equipped to lead this fight and I believe my experience in public office as well as in the private sector as a business owner will help Heritage become even more effective in the years to come.”
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, also a Republican, gets to decide who fills DeMint’s seat. For his part, DeMint has stated publicly that he would like to see Haley appoint Republican Rep. Tim Scott. A special election will then be held in 2014, when voters will get their say on who finishes the final two years of DeMint’s term.
DeMint had always planned on leaving after two terms, according to a DeMint adviser.
“This move puts him in a powerful position to further advance fiscal conservative principles,” the adviser said.
DeMint, a kingmaker among conservatives, is highly influential and well-beloved in the tea party movement, and has been a thorn in the side of establishment Republicans. In 2009, he was the first to endorse Marco Rubio of Florida in his 2010 Senate bid, at the time that the National Republican Senatorial Committee was backing Florida Gov. Charlie Christ.
He was also a powerhouse in the 2012 election. He held a highly-sought endorsement in congressional races and used his super PAC, Senate Conservatives Fund, to back tea party favorites in GOP primaries. Among his picks were successful Senate newcomers Ted Cruz of Texas, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Debbie Fischer of Nebraska.
—Posted by Tracy Bloom.