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“Most importantly, he’s not running for president,” a Republican political operative said, discussing why Lee might fill DeMint’s shoes over the long term.
DeMint, a stalwart conservative who has grown more frustrated with the legislative process during his time in Congress, had minimal effect on the direction of legislation and political strategy inside the Republican Conference. Although not without friends and allies, his methods annoyed many of his colleagues. He never cared for Senate etiquette or mastered the art of relationship-building, which is often key to getting legislation approved.
But in electoral politics, DeMint raised several million dollars through his leadership PAC during the 2010 elections and leveraged his burgeoning popularity among conservative activists to help outsider candidates win GOP Senate primaries. DeMint was not always successful on this front, and his preferred candidates blew some otherwise easy general election contests, which rankled his fellow Senate Republicans. It’s here that DeMint’s exit might be noticed, unless another GOP senator can replicate his political network and fundraising prowess.
Republican operatives with relationships in the Senate expect each of the conservative rising stars to carve out a particular turf and distinguish themselves.
There is less certainty over whether any of them would attempt to influence the outcome of Senate primaries to the degree DeMint did in light of the growing concern from within the GOP that intraparty warfare over who would make the best nominee cost the party easy wins in 2010 and contributed to its loss of two seats in the 2012 elections.
“It’s likely that all of them will stake out positions because each of them has different conservative interests,” a former Republican Senate leadership aide said.