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From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

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Senator Jim DeMint shocked Washington last week when he announced he is quitting the Senate. In the new year, DeMint will become president of a think tank, the Heritage Foundation. The barriers are crumbling between policy research and partisan advocacy. And as NPR's Peter Overby reports, the building blocks are there for DeMint to build a powerful operation with political clout.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Senator DeMint was on "The Rush Limbaugh Show" last week, explaining why he decided to give up his Senate seat for the ardently conservative Heritage Foundation.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO TALK SHOW, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

SENATOR JIM DEMINT: It was the Heritage Foundation that inspired me to run for Congress.

OVERBY: And as Heritage guided DeMint in ideology and policy, he helped to bolster the ranks of its allies. The outgoing president of Heritage, Ed Feulner, told this to Limbaugh.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO TALK SHOW, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

ED FEULNER: First, let me give you a quick quote: Jim DeMint's combination of brilliance, principle, common sense, creativity and, above all else, courage will be an ideal fit for the conservative movement's leading think tank. You know who said that this morning? Ted Cruz.

OVERBY: Ted Cruz is the newly elected senator from Texas. He got there by knocking off an establishment Republican in a primary last summer - something he did with help from DeMint.

DEMINT: I've never been more excited about supporting a candidate as I did Ted Cruz.

OVERBY: Up till now, DeMint has had an organization that offers more than just words: a leadership committee that backed candidates he endorsed, and this year, a superPAC allied with DeMint, which bought ads promoting Cruz.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: When the stakes are highest, we need our most principled leaders, Ted Cruz. On July 31st, help take America back. Senate Conservatives Action is responsible for...

OVERBY: When Cruz declared victory, he said thanks, as did Senators-elect Deb Fisher of Nebraska and Jeff Flake of Arizona. In 2010, DeMint helped to elect five senators. DeMint and his organization helped ultra conservatives to take out more moderate Republicans and primaries. Now, he'll likely have to leave that behind. Heritage is a 501(c)(3) charity, and it cannot engage in electoral politics. But Heritage offers a different path to political engagement. It has an affiliated group called Heritage Action for America.

It's a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, so it is allowed to talk about candidates. This is unusual among think tanks, which generally try to avoid the partisan combat. At Heritage, they believe the world of think tanks is changing. Vice President Michael Franc says it's because the political parties have become more ideologically pure. Franc is on the board of Heritage Action.

MIKE FRANC: The role is different. I think the kind of institutions that tend to get a little bit more attention in this new kind of world are the ones that are heavily engaged in the tactical side of the debate.

OVERBY: How much more engaged? Here's Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham in a recent video. He starts by calling President Obama's re-election devastating and then saying we are in a war.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

MICHAEL NEEDHAM: In 2014, there'll be 20 Senate liberals up for re-election. A strong constitutionally conservative Senate is critical for this fight. And in 2015, with a deep bench of committed conservatives, we must choose a nominee who can best articulate our share of conservative values.

OVERBY: Heritage Action campaigned in seven races this year. Its candidates lost in five of them. But it appeared to be badly underfunded. That hasn't been so much of a problem for Jim DeMint's political operations. With his help, they raised $16 million for this year's election. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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