Jim DeMint (search) latched onto Republican coattails for a victory in South Carolina's open U.S. Senate seat that had been held by Democrat Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (search) for 38 years.

"I was able to campaign with a team that I'm proud of and that starts at the top with the president," DeMint told The Associated Press on Tuesday night.

With 77 percent of precincts reporting in unofficial returns, DeMint led with 54 percent of the vote compared with Democrat Inez Tenenbaum's 44 percent.

This year's election drew extra attention, knpumped millions of dollars into the race, as well as special interest groups.

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"I really think it was the ideas that eventually won it," DeMint said.

South Carolina made history Tuesday, deciding to send two Republicans to the Senate for the first time since Reconstruction.

When Hollings went to Washington in 1966, the state was solidly Democratic. These days, it's difficult for a Democrat to win any statewide office. However, Tenenbaum has been elected state education chief twice.

For most of the past 40 years, Hollings and Republican Strom Thurmond (search) had been the state's senators. Thurmond, who died last year, retired two years ago and was replaced by former Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Hollings will retire after this year.

Tenenbaum campaigned throughout the conservative-leaning state as a moderate who would act independent of her party, but Republicans worked to pin her as a liberal.

Tenenbaum caught up to DeMint in the polls after several weeks of bashing the Republican's proposal to scrap the Internal Revenue Service and replace it with a 23 percent national sales tax.

"It's easy to demagogue when you have an idea out there, and I think that's why to you hear about many politicians talk about new ideas," DeMint said. "People can use it to scare people. I think most people in South Carolina are ready to engage the future with some new thinking."