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DeMint: Kingmaker or Just GOP Spoiler?

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Sen. George Voinovich (above) said Sen. Jim DeMint’s purist approach to party candidates may not be popular enough nationwide to help the GOP pick up seats.

Sen. Jim DeMint has been a gadfly in the Senate GOP Conference for years thanks to his crusade of enforcing a strict conservative orthodoxy on his colleagues.

But many of the South Carolinian’s fellow Republicans acknowledge that his decision this year to buck the party and endorse anti-establishment, tea party primary candidates may infuse him with considerable influence next year. But they’re divided on whether that’s a good thing.

Indeed, DeMint is on the cusp of being declared a kingmaker or a spoiler come Nov. 2, depending on how the ultra-conservative candidates he has boosted through his Senate Conservatives Fund fare in their general election contests.

“I’m into adding Republican Senators to the Senate,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said. “And frankly, I don’t really care where they come from so much as I do the fact that we add to our numbers and add to our leverage and ability to direct the course of the country.”

However, DeMint’s colleagues fear that untested tea party candidates such as those in Nevada, Kentucky, Colorado and Delaware have actually made the Democrats more competitive in an election year when the majority would otherwise have a hard time competing against mainstream Republican candidates.

“Some of the stuff that Sen. DeMint’s for may go down swell in South Carolina; it may be wonderful there,” Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said. “But some of the stuff that he’s for or against may not be that well received in the state of Ohio. ... The fact of the matter is a lot of this stuff is not that popular.”

Voinovich, who is retiring, added that DeMint’s hard-line approach may ultimately hurt the party’s shot at gaining power.

“If we’re going to maybe elect the next president as a Republican, if we’re going to move a lot of these things that people would like to see done, we have to have the majority,” he said.

Some in the party said DeMint’s use of his political action committee has been an attempt to shadow Cornyn, whose preferred candidates have been eliminated or scared away by DeMint picks in six races. Cornyn did not directly address the DeMint factor Wednesday, but he said he will take any win he can get in November.

If DeMint’s candidates succeed, he’s likely to have more sway with those new colleagues than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Cornyn and other leaders because he was willing to back them before it was en vogue.

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