A few months later, in the new Senate, DeMint jockeyed for a position on the Finance Committee. He lost, prompting some DeMint allies to suggest that McConnell might be purposely snubbing him.
But now there are more “outsider” senators in the Republican conference with DeMint, and the South Carolina senator says that together they’re changing the culture of the place. Utah’s Mike Lee, a constitutional lawyer who clerked for conservative Samuel Alito before he was appointed to the Supreme Court, says he hopes to take his cues from DeMint: “He is a firm believer, as am I, that from time to time you have to take a stand even when it’s unpopular and even when you know that others around you aren’t going to agree with you.”
DeMint has declared that he’ll raise $15 million for 2012. Now, when Republican candidates come to Washington to make the rounds, seeking to develop relationships and perhaps garner endorsements, the Senate Conservatives Fund’s Capitol Hill rowhouse is an important stop.
The endorsement of the senator “is like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval for conservatives,” says Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes senate races for the Cook Political Report. “It legitimizes you as a candidate.” Already, says Matt Hoskins, spokesman for the Senate Conservatives Fund, about 30 Senate hopefuls have met with DeMint.
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Not too long ago, Utah senator Orrin Hatch, who’s been reaching out to Tea Partyers in advance of what may be a tough reelection effort, said something that made him sound an awful lot like Jim DeMint. “I live for the day when we have 60 conservative Republicans in the Senate,” he told a newspaper.
The way DeMint tells it, the fate of the nation hangs on his colleagues’ seeing what he sees—that this is it, this is the moment.
There is a “great tension in America today,” DeMint says in Manchester, his soft voice belying the urgency of his words. “Are there enough Americans who are fiercely independent? Who really want to live free?”
This article appears in the July 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.
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