U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint brought high praise for the state’s freshman congressmen to Rock Hill on Wednesday and alluded to plans to get more involved in local politics after his second senatorial term expires in 2016.
DeMint has said – and reconfirmed to about 80 people at the Magnolia Room at Laurel Creek – that he doesn’t plan to run again.
When asked what he’ll do next, DeMint, who said he “will never retire” to applause, alluded to getting involved in local and state political efforts. “Washington is not going to save our country, ” he said.
The Greenville Republican first served in the U.S. House of Representatives for South Carolina’s 4th District from 1999 until 2004, when he won his Senate seat. In 2010, he defeated Democratic challenger Alvin Greene for re-election.
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DeMint heaped praise on South Carolina’s freshman congressmen who, like the senator, have defined themselves as the most conservative voices in the Republican Party, calling for even deeper budget cuts that the conservative majority.
“When you see people like Mick Mulvaney who just got elected to Congress, I’m not a bit worried about who’s going to replace me in South Carolina,” DeMint said. “We’ve got the best bench in the country.”
“It’s too bad he’s leaving,” said Tony Salazar of Fort Mill after the event. “We need people like that, desperately. The problem is, nobody’s ever seen anything like this before,” he said.
DeMint’s stop in Rock Hill comes in a week-long tour of the state, schools and businesses, where he’s been “learning what makes South Carolina work and making sure Washington doesn’t mess it up,” he said.
Earlier Wednesday, he stopped at the Fort Mill area offices of Muzak. The visit was closed to the media.
In Rock Hill, DeMint criticizedPresident Barack Obama for being inexperienced and attacked the health care law now under review by the U.S. Supreme Court for trying to “force people to buy things they don’t want.”
DeMint called Obama a “bully” for recent comments he made against the highest court and said the president and his administration “believe Americans are stupid.”
He also accepted praise from his base for speaking out about his faith and values despite criticism.
“Whenever I get blasted,” DeMint assured them, “I get a lot of support but it’s whisper support.”
Responding to a question about media bias, DeMint said one of the most difficult parts of his job is “to see a reporter misrepresent what I say” and how that’s “amplified” through the “blogosphere” and on the news.
“You can’t explain anything to most reporters anymore,” he said. “Because they’re not looking for understanding. Their story has pretty much been written before it comes to you.”
DeMint used recent compliments he paid Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney as an example.
Throughout the campaign, DeMint said he’s said “nice things” about all the candidates, “trying to build them all up.”
“But whenever I say something about Mitt Romney,” the media says it’s an endorsement, he said.
DeMint’s reputation as a GOP “kingmaker” because of his 2010 support of Republican candidates has prompted interest in who he may be supporting in 2012.
DeMint has said he wanted to stay out of the GOP presidential primary race and said he wouldn’t target any GOP incumbent senators.
But bringing him back into the spotlight was a donation of $500,000 DeMint’s campaign committee recently gave to the Club for Growth, a PAC pushing lawmakers for more conservative economic policies and targeting some Republicans.
The targets include Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana, who recently voted against DeMint’s efforts to ban earmarks permanently and to prevent any bailouts of European governments.
The donation prompted speculation over whether DeMint was breaking a promise not to target any GOP incumbents.
Before Wednesday’s town-hall style meeting, DeMint told the media he will focus his upcoming efforts on getting and keeping true conservatives in the Senate.
“The Senate has been the black hole for good policy ever since I’ve been in Congress. We need to get the majority for Republicans, but not just any Republican will do.”