Sen. Jim DeMint (R)
Elected: 2004, term expires 2010, 1st term.
Born: Sept. 2, 1951, Greenville .
Education: U. of TN, B.S. 1973, Clemson U., M.B.A. 1981.
Family: Married (Debbie); 4 children.
Elected office: U.S. House of Reps., 1998-2004.
Professional Career: Sales rep., Scott Paper, 1973-75; Acct. rep., Henderson Advertising, 1975-81; V.P., Leslie Advertising, 1981-84; Pres., DeMint Marketing, 1983-98.
South Carolina’s junior senator is Jim DeMint, a Republican elected in 2004. DeMint was born in Greenville, where his father was stationed in the Air Force. When his parents divorced, his mother supported the family by establishing a dance school, the DeMint Academy of Dance and Decorum. He graduated from the University of Tennessee and Clemson University’s business school, and returned to Greenville to work in his father-in-law’s advertising business. In 1983, he founded DeMint Marketing, a research firm with businesses, schools, colleges and hospitals as clients. In 1992, he was hired by Republican Bob Inglis in his campaign for the 4th District House seat, helping Inglis hone his message using focus groups and advertising techniques. In 1998, when Inglis ran for the Senate, DeMint ran to succeed him. Like Inglis, he pledged to serve only three terms and take no political action committee money. He called for replacing the graduated income tax with a national sales tax or flat tax, for individual retirement accounts in Social Security, and for a “right-to-life” amendment to the Constitution. In the Republican primary, he faced state Sen. Mike Fair, a former University of South Carolina quarterback who was favored to win. On the first ballot, Fair led with 32%, to 23% for DeMint. In the runoff campaign, DeMint labeled Fair a “career politician,” and upset him in the final balloting, 53%-47%. He won the general election 58%-40%.
|Jim DeMint (R)||857,167||(54%)||($9,036,086)|
|Inez Tenenbaum (D)||704,384||(44%)||($6,265,786)|
|Jim DeMint (R)||154,644||(59%)|
|David Beasley (R)||106,480||(41%)|
|David Beasley (R)||107,847||(37%)|
|Jim DeMint (R)||77,567||(26%)|
|Thomas Ravenel (R)||73,167||(25%)|
|Charlie Condon (R)||27,694||(9%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2002 House (69%), 2000 House (80%), 1998 House (58%)
In the House, DeMint was elected president of the GOP freshman class and joined other junior Republicans seeking to rein in spending by the appropriators. He resisted local pressures and was the only South Carolina House member to vote for normalizing trade relations with China, arguing that the best way to remedy human rights abuses was “to export our products and principles.” DeMint’s votes on trade provoked serious opposition in his textile-producing district. DeMint opposed President George W. Bush’s centerpiece, “No Child Left Behind” education bill in 2001, and sought to replace that bill with one to create a state-based block-grant program for schools. Education and the Workforce Chairman John Boehner tried without success to get DeMint to back down, but Bush persuaded him to do so in a meeting in the Oval Office. On Social Security, he worked to advance the creation of individual investment accounts in the federally run program by getting 117 House members to sign a letter of support, and sponsored a legislation in 2003 to allow people under age 55 to set aside 3% to 8% of their Social Security withholding income in personal investment accounts. In 2002, former state Rep. Phil Bradley challenged him in the primary and had the support of textile titan Roger Milliken, long a financer of conservative and protectionist candidates. But DeMint defended his support for free trade as beneficial for international investment in the district and won 62%-38%.
In 2003, DeMint said that he would keep his promise to serve only three House terms and that he would run for Democrat Ernest Hollings’ Senate seat in 2004. DeMint could not have been more different than the man he sought to replace. DeMint was from South Carolina’s Upstate region while Hollings was a Charleston native with a Lowcountry political base. Hollings was one of the Senate’s leading protectionists; DeMint was an unwavering free trader. Where Hollings served in a variety of elected offices over a political career that spanned more than a half-century, DeMint’s public service began with his first House term. Commenting on South Carolina’s increasingly Republican electorate, the retiring Hollings said, “It wouldn’t be easy for anybody who’s a Democrat in this state to get elected.” There were three competitive challengers to DeMint in the Republican primary: former Gov. David Beasley, who lost his re-election bid in 1998, former state Attorney General Charlie Condon, and millionaire Charleston developer Thomas Ravenel.
Trade policy was consequential in the race. South Carolina had lost nearly 70,000 manufacturing jobs since 1999. DeMint and Ravenel ran as free traders, while Beasley and Condon took protectionist positions. DeMint was backed by the anti-tax Club for Growth, and Beasley’s biggest contributors were Roger Milliken and other textile executives and political action committees. Beasley ran ads featuring an empty textile plant and that claimed DeMint advocated trade policies that had cost the state more than 50,000 jobs. A Condon ad singled out DeMint’s vote to allow China into the World Trade Organization. DeMint responded with ads showing the BMW manufacturing plant near Greer and pointed to increased U.S. exports to China. Beasley led the primary with 37%, but did not get the 50% required to avoid a runoff. DeMint came in second with 26%, Ravenel had 25%, and Condon 9%. In the runoff, DeMint picked up endorsements from Ravenel and Condon and won support from Republican voters still unhappy with Beasley’s policies as governor. He won 59%-41%.
DeMint’s general election opponent was state schools Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum, a popular Democrat who had twice won statewide election. Tenenbaum ran on her record in education and the improving SAT scores of South Carolina high school students. Her signature outfits were red dresses and suits, and she campaigned around the state aboard the Red Dress Express, a recreational vehicle with an image of her on its sides. She picked up where the Republican contest left off, arguing that DeMint’s House votes cost the state tens of thousands of jobs. She opposed the 2005 Central American Free Trade Agreement, which DeMint supported, and she was funded by textile interests. Tenenbaum also claimed that DeMint’s advocacy of a national sales tax would result in a 95% tax hike on South Carolina residents. He ran radio and television ads accusing Democrats of misrepresenting his position. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent $2.5 million through September for Tenenbaum. In October, the National Republican Senatorial Committee ran a $1.3 million ad campaign to shore up DeMint.
DeMint’s campaign was also sidetracked by controversy over comments he made in a campaign debate, indicating that gay people should not be allowed to teach in public schools. “Folks teaching in schools need to represent our values,” he said. But DeMint said he would not require teachers to admit whether or not they were gay. He also suggested that unwed pregnant women also should not teach in public schools. Overall, DeMint spent $9 million to Tenenbaum's $6.2 million. He won 54%-44%. DeMint lost Charleston County by 100 votes, but won big margins in his Upstate home turf: 63%-35% in Greenville County and 59%-38% in Spartanburg County. His election gave South Carolina two Republican senators for the first time since 1877.
DeMint is among the most conservative senators, according to National Journal’s ratings in 2007 and 2008. With fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina , he called in 2005 for eliminating the income tax and replacing it with an 8.5% sales consumption tax plus a tax on business profits, although the proposal went nowhere. Unlike Graham, he voted against the Senate’s immigration bill in 2007, labeling it “amnesty” for illegal aliens. His proposal to eliminate a provision that would have allowed undocumented workers to gain legal status and remain in the country indefinitely was defeated, but he ultimately played a role in the bill’s demise. A reliable ally of the Pentagon and staunch supporter of the Iraq war, DeMint in a May 2007 speech in Spartanburg, said, “Al Qaeda knows that we’ve got a lot of wimps in Congress. I believe a lot of the casualties can be laid at the feet of all the talk in Congress about how we’ve got to get out, we’ve got to cut and run.” He also suggested that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should be censured for declaring defeat in Iraq.
In 2007, as chairman of the Steering Committee, the informal group of Senate conservatives, DeMint joined Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma to limit earmarks in spending bills and to require increased disclosure of earmarks, the special provisions tucked into the appropriations bills by individual lawmakers. His opposition to pork barrel spending quickly became a signature issue. In the 2008 appropriations bills, he requested no earmarks for South Carolina and blocked 10,000 earmarks by others. In March 2008, DeMint proposed a one-year moratorium on earmarks, which won the support of all three then-presidential candidates—Republican John McCain and Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton—but ultimately failed 71-29. Among his successes was elimination of $25 million for spinach producers during a vote on the spending bill for Iraq. He also opposed an expansion of Bush’s global AIDS program, telling Columbia’s The State that “for us to attempt to buy friendship around the world by spending $50 billion is just completely irresponsible. There are enough worthy causes around the world to bankrupt us a hundred times over.” The Senate rejected DeMint’s proposals to cut the program.
In April 2008, DeMint published a book detailing his view on the decline of cultural conservatism, Why We Whisper: Restoring Our Right to Say It’s Wrong. When Republican losses mounted in the November 2008 election, he told The State, “The election reflects a failure of Republicans to keep their conservative promises.”
DeMint’s outspoken opposition to even some of his party’s positions have chafed with GOP leaders. He raises money only for conservative Republicans, not the party at large. DeMint frequently goes public with his concerns on party positions rather than deferring to leaders and committee chairmen. In 2007, he irked Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota by showing up late for a committee meeting on reauthorization of the Consumer Product Safety Commission because he was on the floor trying to kill Dorgan’s Indian health care bill. DeMint then proceeded to offer an amendment on prescription drug reimportation that was identical to one written by Dorgan and Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe. Dorgan accused DeMint of a “stunning lack of courtesy.” DeMint blamed the incident on staff miscommunication and said he thought he was supposed to offer the amendment. In July 2007, he forced a Saturday vote on a housing bill, infuriating Democrats and Republicans alike, but then didn’t show up for the weekend session’s votes. After the 2008 elections, DeMint proposed rules to impose term limits on party leadership positions, which lost overwhelmingly on the Senate floor. He accused leaders of trying to “humiliate” him.
His combative tactics probably cost him a cherished seat on the Senate Finance Committee, which he has sought to no avail. But both the criticism from the left and from within his own party have endeared DeMint to diehard champions of the conservative cause, particularly his outspoken opposition to both the 2008 government rescue of the financial services industry and to President Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus bill in 2009.