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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 McConnellPresident Obama should curb mass incarceration with clemency Cruz, DeSantis to introduce constitutional amendment on term limits Democrats back down from shutdown threat MORE (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerNetanyahu: 'No question' about Trump's support for Israel The Hill's 12:30 Report Boehner compares Trump to Teddy Roosevelt 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 stumps for Louisiana Senate candidate ahead of runoff Giuliani won't serve in Trump administration Will justice in America be Trumped? MORE (R-Ky.) over McConnell’s favored candidate in Kentucky and helped give Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioWhat Trump's Cabinet picks reveal House passes water bill with Flint aid, drought relief What the 2016 election can tell us about 2018 midterms 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 CruzCruz, DeSantis to introduce constitutional amendment on term limits Fiorina to meet with Trump on Monday Trump picks Goldman Sachs chief for top economic adviser: report MORE.

Republican senators who could face competitive primary challenges from the right include Sens. Dick Lugar (Ind.) and Orrin HatchOrrin HatchTax reform: Starting place for jobs, growth Overnight Finance: Senate Dems dig in as shutdown looms | Trump taps fast-food exec for Labor chief | Portland's new CEO tax Mnuchin, Price meet with GOP senators MORE (Utah). Other incumbents, including Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Bob CorkerBob CorkerUkrainians made their choice for freedom, but now need US help Week ahead in defense: Anticipation builds for State pick; Pentagon chief's last trip abroad Former Ford CEO possible candidate for secretary of State: report MORE (Tenn.), have angered conservatives at times, but a credible candidate has not emerged to challenge either of them.