On Wednesday, Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) Senate Conservatives Fund will be a major contributor to a “money bomb” fundraiser for the Senate campaign of former Florida Speaker Marco Rubio (R) with a goal of raising $200,000 in 24 hours.
DeMint had already gathered $115,000 in pledged donations for Rubio as of Monday, and it probably would be unwise to bet against the Senator reaching his goal.
After raising just over $300,000 during the 2008 cycle, DeMint reported more than $1.3 million in receipts for the Senate Conservatives Fund in 2009.
What those reports don’t show is that the political action committee also earned something more valuable over the course of last year: a brand name that is now solid gold in conservative circles.
DeMint acknowledged as much in a recent interview about his PAC.
“It’s considered a seal of conservative approval by a lot of candidates who come to Washington and want to talk to us,” he said. “I think Republicans are looking for a way to distinguish themselves from the old Republicans, the establishment Republicans that many think ran our party into a ditch with too much spending and tens of thousands of earmarks.”
DeMint was able to make quite a splash — and raise his national profile as well in what some hypothesize could be the foundation of a 2012 presidential run — with the $1.3 million he brought in last year.
The Senator, who said he has no plans to run for president, moved more than $255,000 directly to candidates he endorsed. That includes more than $80,000 that was raised and bundled to Rubio, just under $40,000 in independent expenditures for the former Florida Speaker and nearly $20,000 in independent expenditures on behalf of former Rep. Pat Toomey’s (R-Pa.) Senate bid.
The more traditional practice of cutting checks directly from his PAC to a candidate’s campaign has played a smaller role in terms of the PAC’s contribution strategy.
“Bundling has been part of the plan, but I think it’s been more successful than we thought and we’re really just getting started with it.”
And those efforts will be helped by the large amount of time and money DeMint spent building the fund’s grass-roots network in 2009.
Using direct-mail solicitations and online tools, the SCF amassed some 27,000 donors in 2009 and has an e-mail list of more than 100,000 contacts.
“We have a situation now where our e-mail list is bigger than a lot of newspaper circulations, and we can get instant response like what we’re doing with the Rubio money bomb. … So a lot of doors are open. It gives people voices who haven’t had voices in a while.”
With the growing influence of his PAC, DeMint is doing more than simply helping to distinguish candidates from the Republican establishment. He’s also directly challenging his party’s leadership.
In Florida, Rubio is now running ahead of Gov. Charlie Crist (R), who entered the open-seat Senate contest last year with the endorsement of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. In California’s Senate GOP primary, DeMint endorsed state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore while many party insiders view former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina as their preferred candidate. In Pennsylvania’s Senate race, DeMint backed Toomey when Sen. Arlen Specter was still a Republican. And while the party establishment has yet to weigh in on the expected race to succeed Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), DeMint has already tapped Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams (R) as his preferred candidate.
And the list of races the PAC is targeting is likely to expand.
The fund’s “Watch List” includes several states with GOP primaries, including Kentucky, Nevada and Colorado.
“We’re looking at all the primaries, and my hope is that our incumbents will see what’s going on around the country as something they can embrace,” DeMint said.
The Senator also didn’t dismiss the idea of getting involved in primaries against incumbents.
“It is not a radical idea to be focused on constitutional limited government, less spending, less borrowing, less debt,” he said. “These are common-sense ideas, and for any Republican to try to radicalize those ideas is a signal that we still have Republicans in name who just don’t get it.”
DeMint takes the view that Republicans will benefit from the primaries that he’s decided to get involved in. In one sense, he said, his efforts are keeping the Republican Party from fracturing beyond repair.
“I talk to [NRSC Chairman] John Cornyn [Texas] regularly and I think he sees this as a complement to what he’s doing. Obviously sometimes we’re on different teams as far as which Republican candidates [to support], but to have a good competitive primary is the best way to avoid a third party. And that’s what we want to make sure we do is to give Republicans a lot of choices and debate within the Republican umbrella, and I think we’re doing that pretty well.”
NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said Monday that if DeMint or any other Senator wants to help raise money for Republican candidates, the NRSC views that as a good thing. The NRSC has raised $41.2 million so far this cycle.
“Whether he chooses to work with the NRSC to elect a Republican majority or to the extent he wants to raise money for candidates on his own, the bottom line is that at the end of the day we share the same goal of leveling the financial playing field with the Democrats next year,” Walsh said.