DeMint Looks to Carry Endorsement Success Into General Election

Posted August 12, 2010 at 4:06pm

Sen. Jim DeMint, having endorsed a largely successful slate of Republican primary candidates, is shifting his focus to the general election and preparing to support his favored Senate nominees with new and expanded fundraising initiatives.

Through his Senate Conservatives Fund political action committee, the South Carolina Republican through Aug. 4 had directed more than $2 million in bundled contributions and independent expenditures to the various Senate primary candidates he has backed during this election cycle.

With the primary season nearly over, DeMint’s PAC is set to launch a new website, nicknamed “super bomb,” designed to ease the process of giving to SCF-backed general election candidates until Nov. 2.

DeMint, up for re-election but unlikely to face serious competition from Democrat Alvin Greene, also is exploring ways to unload some of the $3.7 million he had on hand as of June 30 to benefit the SCF slate. One idea under consideration is to transfer personal campaign funds directly to state parties in states where his endorsed candidates are running. The South Carolina GOP would have first call on any campaign transfers, which can be made in unlimited amounts.

“Sen. DeMint will be active down the stretch; he’s pivoting very quickly to general election mode,” Matt Hoskins, a spokesman for the Senate Conservatives Fund, said Thursday.

Of the more than $2 million the SCF has funneled to candidates, $1.2 million has been direct donations that were bundled by the PAC. The rest has been spent either in the form of a direct $5,000 contribution as allowed by the Federal Election Commission or through independent expenditures, usually Internet advertisements or radio spots put together by GOP consultant Jon Lerner, who also handles work for the Club for Growth.

The website set to be unveiled by the SCF is modeled after the “money bomb” strategy of Internet fundraising. In the same way a candidate might promote a fundraising goal and direct contributors to go online and give via his or her campaign website, DeMint’s PAC is designing a website that will allow a contributor to direct money to candidates — individually, as a group or in any combination the donor wishes — with just one credit card transaction.

DeMint said in a recent interview that he was considering transferring personal campaign funds to the National Republican Senatorial Committee this fall as long as his race doesn’t become competitive, but it now appears he is weighing other options for any excess funds he might have in his re-election account.

DeMint is more likely to transfer his money to various GOP state parties — possibly in Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Nevada and Pennsylvania — among others, to ensure it isn’t used to help fund moderate GOP candidates in states such as Delaware and Illinois. In South Carolina, DeMint is hoping that any money he might transfer can have an effect on House races; the GOP is targeting Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.).

“What you may see him do is give money to state parties for their victory committee,” a GOP source said. “He wants to use money to help where he can.”

With the victory this week of Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck in the Colorado GOP Senate primary, DeMint added to what has turned out to be a string of victories. DeMint’s overall endorsement record this cycle is six wins and two losses, and two more victories appear forthcoming, with Dino Rossi poised to win the GOP primary in Washington state and Ron Johnson set to win in Wisconsin.

The Senator’s PAC faltered only in California, where state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore never gained traction; and in Indiana, where state Sen. Marlin Stutzman failed to compete.

In Colorado, DeMint backed Buck, who began the race as the underdog, over former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, the establishment favorite — a strategy he followed in some cases, though not all.

In Washington and Wisconsin, DeMint and the establishment see eye to eye. Both Rossi and Johnson are considered frontrunners, and Rossi in particular was heavily recruited by national Republicans to challenge Senate Democratic Conference Secretary Patty Murray.

However, DeMint also endorsed Sharron Angle, now the GOP nominee in the race against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), when she was just an afterthought in Nevada’s Republican primary.

He also backed Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey and Florida’s Marco Rubio early, long before the GOP establishment jumped on board their candidacies. SCF-backed candidates also include Rand Paul in Kentucky, although DeMint stayed out of his primary until late in the game; and Mike Lee in Utah, who received DeMint’s endorsement only after Sen. Bob Bennett failed to secure a spot on the GOP primary ballot.

“A high win percentage is not our primary goal,” Hoskins said. “Sen. DeMint is more focused on supporting the right people than he is on supporting the people with the most money or highest name ID. That said, his win percentage is pretty good.”

Hoskins said DeMint has been selective with his endorsements, not wanting to meddle in primaries where the grass roots was highly engaged or appear as though he were trying to play kingmaker.

In Washington, for example, DeMint held back to see whether Clint Didier’s candidacy would take off. When it became clear to DeMint that Rossi was likely to win the primary, and given that the Senator had already decided Rossi was someone he could support, he chose to back him so that he could begin to help him raise the resources he’ll need to beat Murray.

In Arizona and Alaska, where Republican Sens. John McCain and Lisa Murkowski, respectively, face potentially competitive primaries, DeMint has remained neutral out of courtesy to his colleagues and is likely to continue to do so. Both primaries are scheduled for Aug. 24, with McCain and Murkowski appearing to be comfortably in front of their challengers.

In an introductory video on the SCF’s website, DeMint describes his PAC as an organization “dedicated to electing common-sense conservative leaders.” He has piqued the ire of some of his Republican colleagues in the Senate, who argue that it is impossible to build a GOP majority in the chamber without embracing moderates capable of winning in Democratic-leaning states. But DeMint remains unmoved by that line of thinking.

“Too many Republicans have become more concerned with gaining power than with limiting power’s reach,” DeMint says in the video. “Too many Republicans are in Congress today to become committee chairmen, power brokers and deal makers, rather than citizen legislators. … That’s why we need organizations like the Senate Conservatives Fund.”