DeMint won’t leave tea party voiceless

Others in power back movement

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GOPSen. Jim DeMint’s announcement Thursday that he will resign to run the conservative Heritage Foundation leaves the tea party without its leading voice in the Senate, but the movement has several advocates in the chamber ready to fill the void.

The 2010 Republican wave elections ushered several ambitious tea party-friendly candidates to the Senate, including Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida, Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

Ted Cruz, who with strong tea party support knocked off a well-funded establishment primary opponent on his way to win Texas’ open Senate seat in November, will push hard for the movement’s agenda.

Mr. Rubio, frequently mentioned as a 2016 GOP presidential candidate, has the biggest national profile of the bunch. But Mr. Paul appears the most likely to assume the role of the Senate’s unofficial tea party leader, as his uncompromising and sometimes brash style — like Mr. DeMint — occasionally has caused friction with his own party’s leaders.

Rubio definitely wants to mollify the tea party-friendly wing of the party, but he also needs to be able to reach out to new constituencies, such as Hispanics and folks who are not tea party friendly” if he runs for president, said Scott Huffmon, a political science professor at South Carolina’s Winthrop University.

Mr. Paul, meanwhile, is “definitely happy with the role of holding the flame of ideological purity and not be willing to accept compromise,” Mr. Huffmon said.

Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator of Tea Party Patriots, said that with at least a half-dozen tea party-friendly Republicans in the Senate, there is less need for the movement to have a single point-person in the chamber like Mr. DeMint, who was pushing tea party-style ideals years before it was a GOP force.

“If each of them goes and does the same thing that DeMint has done and recruits other people [to the Senate] who stand for fiscal responsibility, then imagine what the Senate can be in a few more years?” she said.

Mr. DeMint’s South Carolina partner in the Senate, Republican Lindsey Graham, agreed the tea party torch likely won’t be carried by one person, saying that “on different issues it will be a combination of people.”

Mr. Graham added that Mr. DeMint’s tenacious and sometimes abrasive approach always was done with sincerity and the best intentions.

“When Jim dug his heals in, you knew he was here,” Mr. Graham said. “Whether you agree with him or not, I am completely convinced that he was driven by the fact he thinks the country is going in the wrong direction.”

Mr. DeMint’s decision to leave caught many on Capitol Hill off guard, including Mr. Graham.

“When he told me this morning I about fell off my couch,” he said. “I didn’t see this coming.”

Mr. DeMint will step down from the Senate in January and in April will take over for Heritage President Edwin J. Feulner, who co-founded the think tank in the 1970s and has been its president since 1977.

Mr. DeMint, who became a major electoral force beginning with the 2010 elections — helping promote tea party candidates in primaries against establishment GOP favorites — said he is ready to shift to the policy arena.

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