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Conservative Republicans have a new champion: Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina. His role as a campaigner and fundraiser in the midterm elections has given him new clout.
NPR's Peter Overby reports on the combination of faith and fundraising behind the congressman's ascent.
PETER OVERBY: The Family Research Council this week called on its followers to pray for Jim DeMint. Tom McClusky is the head of FRC Action, the council's lobbying arm. He says it's the first time they've asked their followers to pray for one politician, and the response has been fantastic.
Mr. TOM MCCLUSKY (Senior Vice President, FRC Action): Already we have a few tens of thousands of people who have responded that they will pray for Senator DeMint. We just hope that it keeps on building until the new Congress begins.
OVERBY: The midterm elections showed how DeMint can tap that base of social conservatives and fiscal conservatives for campaign cash. He himself easily won re-election. Mostly, he was mobilizing his backers to put Tea Party conservatives into office, as he said on election night.
Senator JIM DEMINT (Republican, South Carolina): The biggest Tea Party...
Unidentified Woman #1: Yeah.
Sen. DEMINT: ...to date is today.
(Soundbite of cheering and applause)
OVERBY: DeMint has a political committee called the Senate Conservatives Fund. It's separate from his Senate campaign committee and this year, it backed 11 candidates - none of them incumbents - often starting in primaries where they opposed establishment Republicans.
Six of DeMint's candidates lost. But five of them won.
McClusky, at the Family Research Council, says they're well-rounded conservatives.
Mr. MCCLUSKY : And for that, instead of being lauded, he's being attacked and he's being maligned by some of his own colleagues.
OVERBY: The Senate Conservatives Fund gave each of those five newcomers between 200,000 and $600,000. DeMint mentioned that on election night, too, along with his favorite Web address.
Sen. DEMINT: It's a little website, SenateConservatives.com. The average contribution is $45 and we've raised five and a half million dollars for candidates.
(Soundbite of cheering and applause)
OVERBY: The fund is what's called a leadership PAC, a fundraising entity that politicians use to burnish their images and build alliances by giving each other campaign cash.
But DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund isn't like the others. First of all, it gets just two percent of its money from the usual Washington players; that is, from political action committees operated by corporations and trade associations.
That two percent stacks up against 77 percent for a traditional leadership PAC, the Bluegrass Committee of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. He's been looking over his shoulder at DeMint.
The Senate Conservatives Fund invites its grassroots donors to designate their contributions for specific candidates. So the dollars go to the candidates, but they flow through the Senate Conservatives Fund.
Sheila Krumholz is director of the Center for Responsive Politics.
Ms. SHEILA KRUMHOLZ (Executive Director, Center for Responsive Politics): DeMint arguably can say he's a pioneer. I think he is saying that he's a pioneer reaching out to a national donor base, really generating a fundraising machine.
OVERBY: Krumholz says they've seen this strategy work with the Club for Growth on the right and EMILY's List on the left. But never like this for a member of Congress.
Ms. KRUMHOLZ: His leadership PAC has raised more money than any member in the House or Senate this cycle. He gets to play kingmaker.
OVERBY: And that's not even the whole package. DeMint's campaign committee sent nearly $2 million to party committees in states where his candidates were running. At the same time, the Senate Conservatives Fund was running ads, like this one for Joe Miller, the GOP nominee in Alaska.
(Soundbite of a political ad)
Unidentified Woman #2: Scott McAdams and Lisa Murkowski are pro-abortion, and they refuse to oppose using your taxes to pay for it. That's extreme, and Miller knows it's wrong. Joe Miller for Senate.
OVERBY: Now that race is down to a legal battle between Miller, who was on the ballot, and Murkowski who ran as a write-in.
The Senate Conservatives Fund says it's raised $100,000 to help pay Miller's lawyers.
Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
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