Senator Jim DeMint's biggest triumph may not be his easy re-election in South Carolina Tuesday night, but the victories of fiscally-conservative Republicans he supported in other states. He sees the fresh faces as part of a movement to not only challenge policies of the Obama administration, but also what he sees as excesses within his own party.
At his victory celebration in Greenville, South Carolina, DeMint announced, "These Republicans know one thing: If they don't do what they say this time, not only are they out, but the Republican Party is dead, and it should be."
DeMint's opponent, Democrat Alvin Greene, had received little support from his own party and faced legal troubles after a University of South Carolina student accused him of showing her obscene photos.
That freed DeMint to spend nearly $2 million of his own campaign funds to help other conservative candidates. His political action committee, the Senate Conservatives Fund, raised a total of $5 million and supported the successful campaigns of Rand Paul of Kentucky, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
"His seat is pretty secure. And what happened during this election is likely to happen in future elections if the climate stays the same," said Kendra Stewart, a political science professor at the College of Charleston. "So, he would definitely be somebody you would want to be friends with."
According to DeMint, his friendship comes with few strings attached.
"I've told each of these candidates that they owe me nothing, except to do what they promised in their campaigns," DeMint said. "I don't expect them to give me any votes for any leadership position. I don't expect to ever put my arm around them and tell them how to vote."
DeMint said he simply wants to be part of a national movement that keeps the GOP honest to its mantra of limited government and less public spending, even if it means foregoing popular earmarks or butting heads with established party leaders.
"I've tried to be a team player with Republicans for years," said DeMint, who spent six years in the U.S. House before serving his first six-year term in the Senate. "I decided a couple years ago that that wasn't working. The Republican establishment seemed happy with the status quo. And we've got to change that."
DeMint published an op-ed in this morning's edition of the Wall Street Journal, congratulating Tea Party-backed candidates on their wins and offering them some advice. "The next campaign begins today," DeMint writes, "Because you must now overcome determined party insiders if this nation is going to be spared from fiscal disaster."
The senator urges incoming senators to hire conservative staff, avoid earmarks and never let re-election become more important than doing their jobs. He also cautions them about accepting titles or committee assignments because other lawmakers may expect compromises in return.
"I know an awful lot of moderate Republicans who are not very fond of Senator DeMint because he's been engaged in what they view as cannibalizing the party inside Republican primaries across the country" said Neal Thigpen, a political scientist at Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina. "On the other hand, some people who are a little more conservative inside South Carolina's Republican Party... they worship at his door."
In conservative circles, DeMint's name is mentioned as a a presidential contender. But the Senator insists he has no White House aspirations -- for himself, that is.
"I'm looking for a president with a whole lot of courage and the ability to manage the most complex organization in the world," DeMint said. "I think they're out there. And I hope I can be a part of helping to pick them."