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Jim DeMint: Ted Cruz is ‘one of the strongest Republicans right now’

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) heaped praise on Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) Friday night as the Lone Star State lawmaker attended a dinner in his former colleague's honor.

Former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). (AP)

DeMint shocked the political establishment by resigning suddenly in December to assume the helm of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. He returned to his home state Friday night as the South Carolina Republican Party honored him at its annual fundraising dinner. During the dinner, Gov. Nikki Haley (R) also bestowed on DeMint the Order of the Palmetto, the state's highest civilian honor.

Cruz was invited to speak at the dinner, stoking speculation that the Texas senator might be considering a run for president in 2016. Adding to the buzz, friends of the senator said this week that he’s mulling a possible presidential bid at the behest of enthusiastic supporters.

DeMint labeled Cruz "one of the strongest Republicans in the country right now."

"I’ve been in 25 cities in the last few months, all I have to do is mention Ted Cruz’s name, and they stand up and cheer," DeMint told reporters before the dinner. "They’re hungry for someone who’s not afraid, willing to stand up and trying to change the status quo. Everyone knows that’s unpopular when you try to do that in both parties. He’s a very popular person and he’s clearly very smart."

DeMint said he was excited that the Senate is now stacked with several young, aggressive conservative members who are willing to buck leadership.

"I’m very excited that we’ve got some younger, just much more vibrant, innovative folks like Cruz, Rand Paul and Mike Lee who are helping to lead the party now," he said, adding that they're "a good diverse group."

But what about Marco Rubio, who appeared in a brief video message to thank DeMint for his early support of the Florida senator's 2010 Senate campaign?

"He’s a good guy, he’s one of my best friends," DeMint said, clarifying that he didn't mean to leave Rubio off his list of young conservative senators.

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.



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