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 McConnellMitch McConnellSenate braces for fallout over Supreme Court fight Republicans seek to lower odds of a shutdown GOP torn over what to do next MORE (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerNunes rebuffs calls for recusal Wounded Ryan faces new battle Bottom Line 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 PaulRand PaulTrump: 'No doubt' we'll make a deal on healthcare Overnight Defense: General says US strike probably led to civilian deaths | Tillerson to push NATO on spending | Trump taps F-35 chief Senate backs Montenegro's NATO membership MORE (R-Ky.) over McConnell’s favored candidate in Kentucky and helped give Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioRepublicans giving Univision the cold shoulder: report Week ahead: Senate panel to vote on Trump's Labor pick Senators introduce new Iran sanctions 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 CruzTed CruzTrump: 'No doubt' we'll make a deal on healthcare The mystery of Ivanka Trump Wounded Ryan faces new battle MORE.

Republican senators who could face competitive primary challenges from the right include Sens. Dick Lugar (Ind.) and Orrin HatchOrrin HatchCan Trump rebound after failure on healthcare bill? Overnight Finance: US preps cases linking North Korea to Fed heist | GOP chair says Dodd-Frank a 2017 priority | Chamber pushes lawmakers on Trump's trade pick | Labor nominee faces Senate US Chamber urges quick vote on USTR nominee Lighthizer MORE (Utah). Other incumbents, including Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Bob CorkerBob CorkerSenate braces for fallout over Supreme Court fight Senate takes up NATO membership for Montenegro GOP lawmaker: Time to work with Dems on healthcare MORE (Tenn.), have angered conservatives at times, but a credible candidate has not emerged to challenge either of them.