Jim DeMint is becoming something of a tea party hero, even a potential conservative kingmaker, a status that is not making the freshman senator many friends among fellow Republicans in Congress.
A backbencher known for his eagerness to challenge the Republican establishment, DeMint is becoming one of the most influential voices of the conservative rebellion that's shaking up GOP primaries. Tapping an anti-incumbent fervor, the South Carolina lawmaker is a coveted - and feared - endorsement, funneling money and grass-roots energy to long-shot candidates who threaten Washington's GOP favorites.
His efforts, highly unusual for a freshman, have upset senators on Capitol Hill, where he's viewed by many as an ideologue willing to purge centrist veterans.
"I feel a sense of urgency that some of my colleagues don't," he said in an interview. "The Republican Party, at least a segment of it within Washington, has increasingly joined the big-government, big-spending, earmarking ranks."
DeMint, 58, has demonstrated an ability to read the conservative electorate. Twice in the past two years he's opposed leading Republicans only to see them abandon the party. His underdog picks in a handful of other races are waging surprisingly strong challenges to mainstream candidates viewed by party leaders as more electable.