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 Boxer (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 McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), John Thune (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 Rubio (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 Coburn (R-Okla.). DeMint himself has endorsed Rep. Jerry Moran (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.