The Kingmaker: Sen. Jim DeMint’s endorsements help grassroots candidates, but could it help him down the road too?

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Republican Sen. Jim DeMint’s political action committee is often described as a kingmaker of conservative candidates, spending roughly $2.6 million so far this cycle on a handful of Tea Party-types endorsed by the South Carolina senator.

His Senate Conservatives Fund PAC backed Marco Rubio’s campaign in Florida, for example, when national Republicans were behind then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, and supported Rand Paul’s campaign in Kentucky even though Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell endorsed another candidate in the race.

But his aggressive advocacy on behalf of these candidates who have gone on to beat out the establishment picks begs the question: what’s in it for him?

“Is it to build a national profile for himself? Is it to try to create a Republican conference that’s as conservative as possible? I don’t have the answer,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor of the Cook Political Report.

Duffy said DeMint might be positioning himself as the de facto leader of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, or angling to be on the GOP ticket — perhaps as Vice President — in 2012. “I don’t think it is far fetched,” she said.

But DeMint, according to one aide, doesn’t think of himself as a kingmaker or “have any ambition or motives other than electing conservatives.” DeMint is also clear with all the candidates he endorsed that he expects nothing in return, the aide said.

“It’s hard for people to understand somebody in this town doing something that’s not self-interested,” said the PAC’s spokesman, Matt Hoskins. “He’s not running for president. He’s not running for any leadership position.”

The Senate Conservatives Fund, which claims to have over 250,000 members, says they’ve given Rubio $392,092.78, Sharron Angle in Nevada $257,872.12, Mike Lee in Utah $200,724.92, Ken Buck in Colorado $179,849.08, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania $105,030.48 and Rand Paul in Kentucky $40,324.29, as of July 1st.

During a conference call Wednesday to announce his endorsement of Ron Johnson, who is running for the U.S. Senate in Wisconsin, DeMint’s star-power among aspiring senators was on display. “Thank you very much for this endorsement,” Johnson said very reverently before the conference began. “This really does mean a lot to me, sir.”

But DeMint’s endorsements could also cause harm for him. Duffy said DeMint faces “real danger” in being blamed if the Republicans he endorses lose in November.

Using the Florida Senate race as an example, she said that if Charlie Crist — who dropped out of the Republican primary to run as an independent after Rubio’s poll numbers surged — wins his independent bid and chooses not to caucus with the Republicans, DeMint could be blamed. “He was part of the effort that started to get the ball rolling that forced Crist out of the party,” she said.

And not all of DeMint’s endorsed candidates have won this cycle. Both Chuck Devore in California and Marlin Stutzman in Indiana were endorsed by the South Carolina senator, but lost their GOP primaries.
His ardent support of candidates not backed by the establishment has led to speculation that DeMint could be a competitor to Sen. Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, for Republican leader. But during the conference call Wednesday with Johnson, DeMint flat-out said he’s not going to run for a leadership spot when The Daily Caller brought up the topic.

“What we really need up here is a group of Republican senators who are gonna pull our leadership in the right direction, and Ron, I think that’s what you can help us do,” DeMint said.

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