By Perry Bacon Jr.
Thursday, September 16, 2010; 12:48 PM
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), the conservative firebrand who has backed a number of insurgents in GOP primaries, is strongly defending his embrace of Senate nominee Christine O'Donnell, even as others in the party say she can't win the Delaware general election.
"They told me we couldn't win in Pennsylvania with a conservative - Pat Toomey is ahead. They said we couldn't win in Florida with a conservative - Marco Rubio is ahead. They said Rand Paul couldn't be competitive in Kentucky - he's ahead," DeMint said, reeling off the names of conservative Senate candidates he has endorsed. "Everything they said has been wrong. I'm counting on them to be wrong in Delaware."
Not everyone in the Republican Party agrees with DeMint. In a closed meeting of Senate Republicans on Wednesday, Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.) complained of the push against moderates like himself by more conservative, "tea party" forces within the GOP. His comments were first reported by Politico.
Brown would not speak publicly about his concerns. But retiring Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), who has occasionally joined with Democrats on key issues, said, "There needs to be a more moderate [Republican] voice speaking about the fact that this is a big country with a lot of diverse opinions."
"We Republicans have different strains in us, like the Democrats, and what we should be doing is trying to unite on what those common strains are. That's what we should be doing if we're trying to be successful in, say, electing a Republican president next time around," Voinovich said.
DeMint does not plan to change his tactics.
"Anyone who says we would be in the majority if we fielded a bunch of moderate candidates just doesn't understand what's happening in America," he said after the meeting.
No matter the results in November, DeMint's endorsements of conservatives have transformed his political career. Elected to the Senate in 2004, he quickly established himself as one of the most conservative members of the chamber.
He has become widely known among Republicans for a self-promoting style that occasionally causes the GOP problems, such as his declaration last year that he hoped the Republicans would turn health-care reform into Obama's Waterloo.
His colleagues complain of his work on O'Donnell's candidacy, and DeMint has little chance of becoming a Republican leader in Congress.
But his endorsements of candidates and their subsequent victories in GOP primaries have made his backing coveted among conservatives who are considering congressional runs. And while he has not indicated whether he will consider a presidential run, there is speculation he might consider a bid in 2012.