Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) endorsed Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin on Wednesday, giving Akin his first potential big-money endorsement and setting up an unlikely coalition.
DeMint's endorsement was announced alongside that of former presidential candidate Rick Santorum by Santorum's Patriot Voices PAC.
"We support Todd Akin and hope freedom-loving Americans in Missouri and around the country will join us so we can save our country from fiscal collapse," DeMint and Santorum said in a joint statement.
DeMint's own PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund, has also made clear in recent days that it is leaning toward endorsing Akin, thought it has not officially done so. The endorsement, for now, is just a personal one from DeMint.
If and when SCF does back Akin, though, it should help him raise significantly more money in his uphill battle to repair his image in the Missouri Senate race. Akin has struggled since remarking last month that "legitimate rape" rarely causes pregnancy (a remark he has repeatedly apologized for), and national Republicans and top GOP super PACs quickly pulled their support for the duration of the race in hopes it would force Akin to drop out.
The deadline for him to do that passed on Tuesday, meaning it's now official Akin will appear on the ballot in November.
But by earning DeMint's endorsement and, if he does, the Senate Conservatives Fund's backing, Akin should be able to raise more money and could benefit from some independent expenditure ads run by the PAC -- which could help offset the lack of national GOP money.
Still, the alliance is a pretty unlikely one.
While both men are religious conservatives, their views have been diametrically opposed when it comes to earmarks.
Akin, until recent days, has been a rather unapologetic earmarker. He ran an ad late in the primary this year defending the practice and has said it's a Constitutional right.
Around the same time, the Senate Conservatives Fund actually criticized Akin's past as an earmarker, with spokesman Matt Hoskins saying Akin was the weakest candidate in the primary "because he’s too liberal on spending and earmarks.”
Today, Hoskins says a closer examination of Akin's priorities is warranted. Akin has in recent days announced his support for an earmark ban, which is a top priority of big-money outside groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth.
"It's no secret that Todd Akin wasn't our top choice, but the voters in Missouri nominated him and he decided to stay in the race," Hoskins told The Fix. "Our mission is to help elect conservatives to the Senate, so we have a responsibility to take a hard look at the race, especially in light of the fact that Akin is polling within single digits of his Democratic opponent."
The Club for Growth, meanwhile, is not jumping on board.
"We have absolutely no plans to get involved in this race," Club spokesman Barney Keller told The Fix.
Hoskins said it's not unheard-of for his group to endorse former earmarkers, though in this case the lawmaker's earmark conversion happens to come just as he's seeking the group's backing. Hoskins noted that DeMint himself is a former earmarker, and the group has endorsed some candidates who are former earmarkers, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in 2010 and former senator George Allen (R-Va.) this year.
"Like Akin, (Allen) agrees with our policy goals, he's in a competitive race, and the outcome could determine control of the Senate," Hoskins said.
Hoskins also noted that SCF endorsed National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) in 2008, despite his past support for earmarks.
Today, DeMint's move toward Akin threatens to inflame some long-simmering tensions between he and Cornyn, who has said he won't spend any money on Akin's behalf.
(Updated at 4:15 p.m: The NRSC has now apparently opened the door to spending money on the race.)
DeMint has made a practice of endorsing insurgent GOP Senate candidates in primaries against candidates that Republicans view as more electable. Establishment-minded Republicans believe some of these candidates who went on to win their 2010 primaries -- including Delaware's Christine O'Donnell and Colorado's Ken Buck -- wound up costing them very winnable races in 2010.
DeMint has publicly encouraged Cornyn to take a second look at Akin now that the ballot is set. Polls continue to show that, even as Akin's personal image has taken a huge hit, he's still within single digits of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).
"I’m going to look at the race and I would encourage John Cornyn to look at all races where Republicans have a chance to win,” DeMint told The Hill last week.
Hoskins continued in that vein Wednesday.
"The easy thing would be for us to just look the other way and say it's not our problem, but we have a responsibility to objectively evaluate the race, and we believe the Republican Party does too," he said.