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 Carolinians 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 theyre divided on whether thats 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.
Im into adding Republican Senators to the Senate, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said. And frankly, I dont 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, DeMints 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. DeMints 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 hes 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 DeMints hard-line approach may ultimately hurt the partys shot at gaining power.
If were going to maybe elect the next president as a Republican, if were 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 DeMints 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 DeMints candidates succeed, hes 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.