(WASHINGTON) — Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican and ideological leader of conservatives who identify with the Tea Party on Capitol Hill, is leaving the U.S. Senate to head an influential conservative think tank.
DeMint will leave the senate in January to be president of The Heritage Foundation, according to a statement released Thursday by his office.
“I’m leaving the Senate now, but I’m not leaving the fight,” DeMint said in the statement. “I’ve decided to join The Heritage Foundation at a time when the conservative movement needs strong leadership in the battle of ideas. No organization is better equipped to lead this fight and I believe my experience in public office as well as in the private sector as a business owner will help Heritage become even more effective in the years to come.”
DeMint served three terms in the House of Representatives before coming to the U.S. Senate in January of 2005. He was reelected in 2010. His influence has grown in the Senate, particularly among conservatives, because he has been an often uncompromising advocate for much smaller government.
He has been a vehement opponent of the Obama administration on everything from the 2009 stimulus to the president’s health reform law.
“My constituents know that being a senator was never going to be my career,” he said. “I came to Congress as a citizen legislator and I’ve always been determined to leave it as citizen legislator. South Carolina has a deep bench of conservative leaders and I know Governor Haley will select a great replacement.”
Not satisfied with moderates in the Republican Party, he has led efforts to recruit and fund more conservative alternatives. He was particularly active in the 2010 midterm, helping Marco Rubio defeat then-Republican and then-moderate Charlie Crist in Florida. DeMint also helped Republican Christine O’Donnell defeat Rep. Mike Castle in the Delaware Republican primary.
But those two races show the mixed success DeMint’s strategy can bring. Rubio has become a rising star in the Senate and for conservatives. But O’Donnell lost her bid in the general election and Republicans lost the opportunity to gain that seat in the senate.
“One of the most rewarding things I’ve done in the Senate is work with the grassroots to help elect a new generation of leaders who have the courage to fight for the principles of freedom that make this country so great,” he said. “I’m confident these senators will continue the legacy of conservative leaders before them.”
Before Congress, DeMint owned an advertising and market research firm. Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, will appoint a replacement for DeMint until the next regular statewide election.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Azadeh Ansari and Angela Dewan, CNN
Dakin Andone, CNN
Mike Price, EastIdahoNews.com
Dylan Byers, CNN