Vote on debt ceiling could push DeMint to back incumbent primary challengers

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) might back primary challengers to incumbent Republican senators after all.

DeMint had promised after last year’s election that he would not endorse any opponents to his fellow GOP lawmakers in the 2012 cycle. But now he is angry enough with the debt-ceiling compromise that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAlabama election has GOP racing against the clock McConnell PAC demands Moore return its money Klobuchar taking over Franken's sexual assault bill MORE (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerTrump's pick for Federal Reserve chief is right choice at right time The two-party system is dying — let’s put it out of its misery One year later, neither party can get past last year's election MORE (R-Ohio) struck with President Obama that he might back serious challengers to Republican senators who support the plan, according to a source close to the senator.

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“He’s already opened the door to changing that policy in terms of supporting people in primaries — this deal could bring him to the point where he says he’s not going to make any guarantees,” said the source, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of intraparty relations. “It’s not a threat that he’s going to oppose anybody, but ... if he does, nobody should be surprised.”

DeMint, whose Senate Conservatives Fund helped finance several right-wing Republican candidates last election, angered Republican leaders when he backed a handful of conservative challengers to candidates backed by the establishment.

He supported Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCongress must end American support for Saudi war in Yemen Black men get longer prison sentences than white men for same crimes: study Sarah Palin on sexual harassment: 'People know I'm probably packing' so they 'don't mess with me' MORE (R-Ky.) over McConnell’s favored candidate in Kentucky and helped give Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioCongress faces growing health care crisis in Puerto Rico The Hill's 12:30 Report Colbert mocks Trump for sipping water during speech on Asia trip MORE (R-Fla.) an early boost in his primary against then-Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (I).

After the 2010 elections, DeMint promised his colleagues he would not endorse any primary candidates, but the debate over raising the debt ceiling has changed his mind. DeMint said in mid-June at the Republican Leadership Conference that “if we have folks who go the wrong way on [the debt-ceiling vote], it’s going to be pretty hard for me to sit still” and stay out of primaries. 

The new deal does not pass muster with him, which should worry some of his fellow senators. The Senate Conservatives Fund spent $8.2 million on its preferred candidates last election cycle, and DeMint has said he hopes to raise and spend $15 million this time around.

He has already endorsed two Republicans in possibly competitive Senate primaries next year: Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel and former Texas Solicitor General Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTexas Republicans slam White House over disaster relief request Dem rep: Trump disaster aid request is 'how you let America down again' Moore endorsements disappear from campaign website MORE.

Republican senators who could face competitive primary challenges from the right include Sens. Dick Lugar (Ind.) and Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchProminent conservative passes on Utah Senate bid Republicans offer this impossible choice: Tax cuts or senior care Senate GOP running out of options to stop Moore MORE (Utah). Other incumbents, including Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerBannon: McConnell 'picking up his game' because of our 'insurgent movement' State Dept. spokeswoman acknowledges 'morale issue' The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Tenn.), have angered conservatives at times, but a credible candidate has not emerged to challenge either of them.