Jim DeMint, the Tea Party kingmaker who announced his resignation from the U.S. Senate Thursday to head a Washington-based conservative think tank, left an indelible mark on the world of Pennsylvania politics.
It was DeMint, who during the infancy of the Tea Party movement in 2009 carved out a role as the far right's political leader and in that capacity chased Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter from the Republican Party.
Specter, who had angered many in his party for voting with Democrats and the White House on the economic stimulus law, was facing a GOP primary rematch from conservative-favorite Pat Toomey. It was already promising to be an uphill fight - he'd only beat Toomey narrowly five years earlier - but one afternoon off the Senate floor, DeMint made clear just how difficult it would be for Specter.
DeMint told Specter he'd be backing Toomey in the primary. "He barely made eye contact, but I continued," DeMint wrote in his 2011 book. "(I said,) 'I value your friendship.' He cut me off and said, 'I've heard enough,' then stood up and walked away."
Not long after that exchange, Specter, knowing his career wouldn't survive a bruising battle with Toomey, switched political parties only to lose the Democratic primary to Joe Sestak. In Specter's final floor speech, he took a swing at DeMint, though of course not by name.
"Senators have even opposed their own party colleagues in primary challenges. That conduct was beyond contemplation in the Senate I joined 30 years ago," Specter said in December 2010. "Collegiality can obviously not be maintained when negotiating with someone simultaneously out to defeat you, especially within your own party."
DeMint will now head the Heritage Foundation. Earlier this year he handed off his position as chairman of the Republican Steering Committee, which helps direct conservative policy, to his friend, Toomey.
Toomey, in a statement Thursday, called DeMint a friend and mentor, and said "his departure will be a tremendous loss for the U.S. Senate and for the conservative movement."
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