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South Carolina conservative (Jim DeMint) sets himself up as kingmaker

By James Rosen, McClatchy Newspapers James Rosen, Mcclatchy Newspapers – Sat Nov 28, 4:07 pm ET

WASHINGTON — South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint is using his rising national profile among conservative activists to support and bankroll Republican Senate candidates around the country, some of them underdogs challenging GOP establishment favorites.

DeMint's endorsements of former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio over Gov. Charlie Crist and California state Rep. Chuck DeVore over former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina put him at odds with other prominent Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky , Sen. John McCain of Arizona and fellow South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham .

In Pennsylvania , DeMint's endorsement of former Rep. Pat Toomey helped prompt incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter to bolt the Republican Party and run for re-election as a Democrat.

DeMint, who has met with or plans to interview 20 GOP candidates in eight states, has started doling out money from his Senate Conservatives Fund , a political action committee that's raised $1.45 million — most of it from supporters in other states.

"We've got a chance in this next election to prove a lot of establishment Republicans wrong and show that anywhere in the country principled conservatives can win," DeMint told thousands of activists in a Nov. 3 conference call.

DeMint, a first-term senator seeking re-election next year, has attracted conservative followers nationwide for blocking appropriations earmarks, helping to defeat immigration reforms and leading GOP opposition to expanded federal medical benefits.

DeMint's willingness to go outside his party's official endorsement structure — led by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas , head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — is rare for a sitting senator, and virtually unheard of for a freshman.

Katon Dawson , a former South Carolina Republican chairman who narrowly lost to Michael Steele in January to head the national party, said DeMint's name increasingly resonates in other states.

"He now is in a prominent leadership role in the Republican Party to where his endorsement matters and means something," Dawson said.

Among 413 donors who've contributed at least $200 to DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund political action committee, only eight are from South Carolina .

DeMint, 58, makes no bones that he's more focused on advancing conservative goals nationwide than on pursuing the parochial interests of his state.

"All of you all over the country — please remember that Senate seats are not about a particular state," DeMint told more than 4,000 listeners on the recent conference call.

"They're about our country," DeMint said. "Every vote I take is not about South Carolina . It's about the United States of America ."

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http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/20091128/pl_mcclatchy/3366...