Senator DeMint bucks Republican party, backs conservative in California race

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) endorsed conservative California State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R) Tuesday, once again going against the wishes of his party.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) has made no endorsement in the California Senate race, but party leaders favor former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina (R), a wealthy centrist whom many believe could give Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerTime is now to address infrastructure needs Tom Steyer testing waters for Calif. gubernatorial bid Another day, another dollar for retirement advice rip-offs MORE (D-Calif.) a strong challenge.

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Later this month, Fiorina will be the guest of honor at a Washington fundraiser featuring Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellGOP senator: Don't expect Trump to 'have your back' on healthcare vote Senate Dems step up protests ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote Johnson becomes fourth GOP senator unwilling to proceed on healthcare bill MORE (R-Ky.) and Sens. John McCainJohn McCainCongress needs to support the COINS Act GOP’s message on ObamaCare is us versus them Frustrated Dems say Obama botched Russia response MORE (R-Ariz.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), John ThuneJohn ThuneFour GOP senators will vote against taking up healthcare bill without changes Week ahead in tech: Lawmakers turn focus to self-driving cars Senate panel unveils aviation bill with consumer protections, drone fix MORE (R-S.D.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and three others, along with veterans of McCain’s 2008 presidential bid, for which Fiorina served as a key spokeswoman.

But DeMint is rarely persuaded by appeals to party loyalty. Earlier this year, he became one of several very conservative Republican senators to back former Florida House Speaker Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio: 'I hope' Mexican elections won't end partnership against cartels Election hacking fears turn heat on Homeland Security Will Republicans stand up to the NRA's insurrection rhetoric? MORE (R) over Gov. Charlie Crist (R). Now he is backing DeVore.

“Chuck DeVore is a proven, tested conservative who is gaining momentum. He’s the kind of leader who we can count on to stand up for common-sense conservative principles in the United States Senate,” DeMint said on a conference call Tuesday evening. “If grassroots conservatives get behind him, he can win the primary in June and go on to defeat Barbara Boxer in November.”

DeMint’s political action committee, the Senate Conservatives Fund, has also endorsed fellow arch-conservative Sen. Tom CoburnTom Coburn'Path of least resistance' problematic for Congress Freedom Caucus saved Paul Ryan's job: GOP has promises to keep Don't be fooled: Carper and Norton don't fight for DC MORE (R-Okla.). DeMint himself has endorsed Rep. Jerry MoranJerry MoranThe Hill's Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal bill Proposal to privatize air traffic control struggles to win over critics Senate panel to reject Trump’s air traffic control plan in aviation bill MORE (R-Kan.), with whom he shares a media consultant, for an open Senate seat. DeMint also backed Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman in New York before enough pressure mounted to force the more liberal GOP nominee out of the race.

One of the most conservative members in the upper chamber, DeMint is also one of those least willing to compromise on Republican ideals. He offered a tepid endorsement of McCain in 2008 after his candidate, former Gov. Mitt Romney (R), dropped out of the presidential sweepstakes, and he has said he would rather have 30 pure conservatives in the Senate than a majority of centrists.

“Jim DeMint just doesn’t bend much, and that’s why he’s going to have very little trouble getting reelected,” said Katon Dawson, the former South Carolina GOP chairman and a DeMint ally. “DeMint has been one of the U.S. senators who has stepped forward to carry the conservative banner.”

Still, others say DeMint is wrong to insist that candidates across the country fit his ideological mold. Referring to DeMint’s claim that he would like to see a conference of 30 pure conservatives, one GOP official shuddered: “If we were to adhere to his candidate selection, he would get his wish.”

But the notion of pragmatists versus conservatives within the GOP is one that has gained prominence of late. As in the special election in New York and the Senate contest in Florida, California could emerge as a state in which a clash takes place. Fiorina is not as liberal as the New York Republican, but she does not have the conservative bona fides DeVore does.

Fiorina is expected to make her candidacy official this week. DeVore, an Orange County Republican, has been in the race for a year.

A Field Poll, conducted between Sept. 18 and Oct. 6, shows Boxer leading Fiorina by 49 percent to 35, while the incumbent has a 50-33 percent lead over DeVore. A sub-sample of Republican primary voters showed Fiorina and DeVore statistically tied.