by Sam Spence
U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint announced Thursday morning that he will be leaving the Senate in January, before the new Congressional Session, to become the president of the conservative Washington think tank, the Heritage Foundation.
A successor, who will serve the next two years of what would be DeMint's second term, will be named by Gov. Nikki Haley, also a Republican, before a special election is held in 2014. The winner of the special election would serve the remaining two years of DeMint's term and would then be up for re-election again in 2016.
Early speculation is that Haley will make the appointment from the stable of Republican lawmakers elected in 2010 such as Tim Scott or Mick Mulvaney. Former attorney general and failed Republican candidate for governor Henry McMaster has also been floated as a good fit. CNN reports that DeMint would like to see Scott as his successor.
"I'm leaving the Senate now, but I'm not leaving the fight," DeMint said in a statement, "I came to Congress as a citizen legislator and I've always been determined to leave it as citizen legislator." The junior senator, first elected in 2004 after Fritz Hollings opted to retire instead of seeking a seventh term.
During his time in office, DeMint has built a reputation for himself as a hard-nosed, unapologetic conservative who rarely bowed to political pressure. Over the course of the 2010 and 2012 elections, DeMint positioned himself as a 'kingmaker' of sorts, raising and distributing more than $20 million to sometimes-longshot conservative candidates on behalf of his Senate Conservatives Fund political action committee.
Gov. Haley said in a statement that DeMint's "voice for freedom and limited government has been a true inspiration."