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DeMint says 'tea party' candidates strengthen GOP

The South Carolina senator, who has supported insurgent conservative candidates, tells the Values Voter Summit that the public no longer has to choose 'the "least worst" on the ballot.'

September 17, 2010|By Kathleen Hennessey, Tribune Washington Bureau
  • South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint speaks at the Values Voter Summit, an annual conference of socially conservative voters hosted by the Christian conservative advocacy group Family Research Council.
South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint speaks at the Values Voter Summit, an annual… (Jacquelyn Martin, Associated…)

WASHINGTON -- South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint on Friday made no apologies for pushing to upend the establishment in Republican primaries across the country and praised the class of "tea party" candidates he helped catapult into the spotlight.

"I've been working for that past year to stir up some vigorous primaries between establishment Republicans and Republicans who stand up for those principles of freedom," DeMint told a group of socially conservative activists gathered in Washington. "Folks, instead of diminishing our party, there's been one upset after another all over the country. ... This is no longer voting for the 'least worst' on the ballot. We got some candidates that we can be proud of that we know when they get to Washington they're going to stand up for you and millions of Americans who for years have felt ignored."

DeMint's comments come on the heels of perhaps the biggest upset of the primary season, the Tuesday victory of abstinence advocate Christine O'Donnell over longtime Rep. Michael Castle in the Delaware Senate primary. With O'Donnell's win, many believe Republicans' chances of winning the seat plummeted. DeMint caught flack from many in the party for his support for O'Donnell.

But DeMint on Friday kept up the pressure on his some of his Senate colleagues. He singled out Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who lost her party's nomination in Alaska to tea party candidate Joe Miller.

"As you know there have been some senior Republicans in the Senate who went out and campaigned on, 'You need me because I bring home the bacon.' " DeMint said. Voters in Alaska backed Miller because he said, "I don't care what we need in Alaska, I don't want to bankrupt my country," DeMint said.

Murkowski is believed to be considering running as a write-in candidate. She will be making an announcement about her future late Friday in Anchorage.

DeMint spoke at the Values Voter Summit, an annual conference of socially conservative voters hosted by the Christian conservative advocacy group Family Research Council. This year's meeting is a showcase of rising stars on the right -- including a handful of Republicans believed to have presidential aspirations. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich were scheduled to speak in the two-day event. O'Donnell was due to speak Friday afternoon.

The conference's unofficial theme was the uniting of the insurgent tea party movement, whose focus is fiscal and constitutional conservatism, with the socially conservative voters who for years have driven the Republican Party's grassroots operations. As the tea party has captured a growing share of influence within the GOP and the economy has dominated the political agenda, these largely Christian voters have seen candidates devoting less time to the issues that motivate them, including abortion, gays serving in the military and same-sex marriage.

Speakers on Friday sought to engage these activists on economic issues.

In his remarks, Huckabee said that the nation's economic woes are rooted in a "moral crisis" in America that has caused the crumbling of the families and undermined the stability of the country.

"Wall Street was not a money crisis, it was a moral crisis of unmitigated greed," he said. "Ours is not so much a fiscal crisis, it's a family crisis. ... The real reason we have poverty is we have a breakdown of the basic family structure. There is a direct correlation between the integrity and stability of the family and stability of our country."

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