The head of the Senate Conservative Fund said Wednesday that the group will not support former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds in the race to replace retiring Sen. Tim Johnson, the Democrat who announced this week he will not seek re-election in 2014.
Matt Hoskins, the head of the political action committee, said in an email blast that Mr. Johnson's retirement gives conservatives a prime opportunity to elect a "strong, principled leaders" to the seat and that the opportunity should not be wasted on "another moderate Republican who won't fight for our freedoms."
"There's already one Republican candidate in the race that we know we cannot support — former Governor Mike Rounds," Mr. Hoskins said. "As governor, Mike Rounds raised taxes, increased the state's bureaucracy, supported President Obama's stimulus program, and backed bailouts for Wall Street banks. This is the not the record of a conservative."
The Senate Conservative Fund was founded by former Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, a tea party favorite who is credited with playing a major role in electing such leading Senate conservatives as Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas. Mr. DeMint now heads the conservative Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.
The Senate Conservative Fund spent nearly $16 million into the 2012 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Mr. Johnson's announcement Tuesday that he will not seek a fourth term in the U.S. Senate opens up prime pick-up opportunity for the GOP in a red state that strongly backed Mitt Romney over President Obama last year. Republicans who need to flip six seats to take over the upper chamber in the midterm elections.
Mr. Rounds has already announced plans to run for the GOP nomination, while GOP Rep. Kristi Noem, the state's lone House member, is also thought to be interested in the race.
Mr. Hoskins said that the group will be looking to endorse a candidate who is a true conservative, has grassroots support and can win.
"Our message to any conservative in South Dakota who might consider running for the U.S. Senate is this: You're not alone," Mr. Hoskins said. "If you're willing to fight for the Constitution and you can put together an effective grassroots campaign, there are thousands of freedom-loving Americans in South Dakota and across the nation who will support you."
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