By Alexander Bolton - 12/21/09 04:00 PM EST
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) is locked in a battle with National Republican
Senatorial Committee Chairman John CornynJohn CornynSaudi skeptics gain strength in Congress Why Cruz flipped on Trump Schumer rips 'disappointing' 9/11 bill veto, pledges override MORE (Texas) over the future
makeup of the Senate Republican conference.
DeMint (S.C.), the chairman of the Senate Republican Steering Committee, is going toe-to-toe with Cornyn in Senate Republican primaries.
“Every Republican campaigns on being a conservative, but if you look at what we do once we’re in office, most people join the club rather than the country after they get here, particularly in the Senate,” DeMint said in an interview.
DeMint met Thursday with DeVore, a California assemblyman, who has complained about his inability to set up a meeting with Cornyn.
DeVore is running in the California’s Senate Republican primary against former Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Carly Fiorina, who has received fundraising help from Cornyn.
“John Cornyn has picked a candidate he thinks can win and I picked one that I believe can not only win the primary but the general [election] and when he gets here, he’s going to help us turn this Congress around,” said DeMint.
DeMint said he decided to run for reelection in 2010 only after promising himself that he would try to change the ideological makeup of the Republican conference.
“I decided that I did not want to be here with the same people that I’ve been with before, Democrats, Republicans, everybody,” said DeMint. “I want some people [in the Senate] who are willing to stand up and go where America is going.”
DeMint has set up a fundraising committee, the Senate Conservatives Fund, to counter the support the GOP establishment may give to centrist candidates in the belief they have the best chance of winning general elections.
DeMint is using his committee to steer funds to DeVore and other conservative candidates. The organization has also contributed to Republican Marco RubioMarco RubioSenate rivals gear up for debates Rubio: End of Obama's term could be 'most damaging yet' Fifteen years since pivotal executive order, STORM Act could help fight terror finance MORE, the conservative former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, who is challenging Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) for Senate.
DeMint is also considering endorsing two other conservatives who are running against candidates backed by Cornyn in New Hampshire and Kentucky. DeMint has scheduled talks with at least 20 conservative candidates this year.
In New Hampshire, DeMint is weighing support of Ovide Lamontagne, a conservative lawyer running against former state Attorney General Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteSenate rivals gear up for debates WATCH LIVE: Warren campaigns for Clinton in NH Green group endorses in key Senate races MORE. In Kentucky, another conservative, Rand PaulRand PaulSaudi skeptics gain strength in Congress Senators challenge status quo on Saudi arms sales Five tips from Trump's fallen rivals on how to debate him MORE, is running against Secretary of State Trey Grayson.
DeMint met with Lamontagne earlier this month and Paul over the summer.
The NRSC has set up joint fundraising committees with Fiorina, Ayotte and Grayson. In addition, Cornyn has attended fundraisers with the candidates at NRSC headquarters.
Conservative activists have criticized Cornyn for setting up the committees with candidates facing conservative rivals in GOP primaries.
Activists have concerns about Ayotte and Grayson because a Democratic governor re-appointed Ayotte to her former position as attorney general, and Grayson once belonged to the Democratic Party.
DeMint said he does not fault Cornyn for backing centrist candidates such as Fiorina, but he thinks the national political environment has changed since the spring, when the NRSC began recruiting for 2010.
“All across this country there has been a growing movement of Americans who are standing up, crying out,” said DeMint. “They’re anxious, they’re angry. They’re looking for candidates now that they weren’t looking for even last year.”
DeVore said he hoped DeMint’s fundraising committee would “provide a counterweight to a national fundraising capacity that the NRSC brings to Fiorina.”
At this point, the Senate Conservatives Fund has a lot of ground to make up. It has raised $1.2 million through the end of November, compared to the Senate Republican fundraising committee, which collected more than $37 million through the end of last month. The Conservatives Fund has contributed, bundled and spent $112,000 to help Rubio and DeVore, according to an aide familiar with its activity.
Cornyn defended his committee’s action by arguing the purpose of the joint fundraising ventures is to raise money for the party.
“We’re trying to help candidates to get elected and we’re trying to raise money for ourselves,” said Cornyn, who noted that candidates keep as much money as allowed by campaign finance limits — $2,400 for the primary and $2,400 for the election per individual donor.
“Anything above that goes to the NRSC that we would then use ... in the general election to help elect candidates,” said Cornyn.
NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said he welcomed DeMint’s efforts on behalf of GOP candidates.
"If Sen. DeMint or any other senator wants to help raise money for Republican candidates we view that as a good thing,” said Walsh. “The NRSC's fundraising is up over 20 percent from this point two years ago and in key races around the country, it's the Republican candidates who are ahead in the money chase.
“So to the extent we can work with people like Sen. DeMint or to the extent he wants to raise money for candidates on his own, the bottom line is that at the end of the day we share the same goal of leveling the financial playing field with the Democrats next year," Walsh added.
Walsh said that Cornyn’s attendance at fundraisers for GOP primary candidates such as Fiorina does not mean the NRSC has endorsed them. Walsh said Cornyn acted as an individual senator, not as NRSC chairman.
This story was updated at 2:42 p.m.