16 May 2010

Pushing Right

McClatchy: Jim DeMint leads rightward shift of GOP candidates nationwide

In Kentucky, GOP voters will choose between Trey Grayson — the handpicked choice of the state's most powerful Republican, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — and DeMint-backed Rand Paul, son of former Libertarian Party presidential candidate — and current Texas congressman — Ron Paul. In Pennsylvania, Democrats will select Rep. Joe Sestak or incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter, who bolted the Republican Party last year after DeMint became the first Republican senator to endorse Specter's opponent, former Rep. Pat Toomey, in the GOP primary.

DeMint's impact — through endorsements and money from his Senate Conservatives Fund — has also been felt in recent weeks in Florida, Indiana and Utah, and it will reverberate throughout the summer in California, Colorado and beyond. Around the country, DeMint is backing conservative underdog challengers who are running against more moderate Republican establishment candidates such as Carly Fiorina in California and Jane Norton in Colorado.

Such tensions reflect a deeper struggle among Republicans. Moderates say the party must court independent voters, seek bipartisan solutions and reverse declines among Hispanics.

Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said DeMint's promotion of ultraconservative candidates might make it harder for the GOP to regain control of Congress.

As they've watched DeMint's growing national profile among hard-line conservative activists, some analysts think his ultimate target is a more powerful post than Senate Republican leader.

"He is cultivating a movement," said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University. "I think he sees himself as a presidential candidate. With the intensity of people on his side, he can nudge aside people like (Mitt) Romney and Tim Pawlenty."

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