Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, darling of the conservative Tea Party movement, just told our Gregg Jarrett live on Fox that he intends to remain "neutral" in the Arizona GOP primary where incumbent Sen. John McCain now has a conservative challenger --- former Rep. J.D. Hayworth.
McCain has always had trouble with the right wing of his party, particularly in Arizona, and more particularly after he joined forces with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-MA, a liberal, to craft a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Hayworth railed against the reform effort at the time.
DeMint was adamantly opposed to the legislation, as well, and he and McCain are certainly not close, so this is no surprise. As McCain has moved further right since the '08 election, DeMint and he have come together on some issues, like recently annoucing a one-year earmark moratorium proposal and a Constitutional balanced budget amendment. Still -- DeMint was a Mitt Romney guy in the 2008 presidential race.
DeMint has said he's perfectly willing to go against GOP incumbents -- his own colleagues -- because he thinks it's healthy for the process, that it weeds out possible 3rd party challenges. And DeMint is quick to add that it's not about him but about "taking back our country" -- as he sees President Obama and Democrats deepening the involvement of the federal government in everyday lives.
"My intent is not to shine a light on me but focus on underdog candidates who are not underdog anymore," DeMint told Fox.
So - the fact that DeMint's remaining neutral is perhaps good news for McCain. No doubt Hayworth could use the backing and finanical resources that DeMint is now able to marshall with his legions of conservative followers. He's dropping a "money bomb" on the conservative candidate in the Florida Senate race, for instance -- hundreds of thousands of dollars for Marco Rubio --- against the establishment's pick: Gov. Charlie Crist. (DeMint has a conservative PAC he set up a number of years ago.)
Hayworth is expected to officially announce his candidacy Monday in Phoenix.