South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint abruptly announced Thursday plans to resign his Senate seat and head the conservative Washington think tank The Heritage Foundation.
DeMint, a Tea Party leader, told the Wall Street Journal he will replace Ed Feulner as president of Heritage in early January. His departure will open up a spot for South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) to pick a replacement, who will then run in a special election in 2014, the Journal reported. South Carolina's other senator, Republican Lindsey Graham, will also be defending his seat that year.
“It’s been an honor to serve the people of South Carolina in United States Senate for the past eight years, but now it’s time for me to pass the torch to someone else and take on a new role in the fight for America’s future,” DeMint said in a statement.
“I’m leaving the Senate now, but I’m not leaving the fight. 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," he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told Politico DeMint informed him of his decision Thursday morning.
“We’re sorry to see Jim go. He’s had a distinguished career,” McConnell said. “My wife [Elaine Chao] is a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation. She’ll be reporting to him.”
DeMint easily won re-election in 2010. He had previously announced he would not seek a third term in 2016. The winner of 2014's special contest will only serve out the remainder of DeMint's term -- not a full six years -- before facing election again.
South Carolina newspaper The State reported speculation on possible replacements for DeMint quickly turned to Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), also a Tea Party favorite and the only black Republican in the House. Other possibilities are GOP Reps. Mick Mulvaney and Trey Gowdy or Haley herself.
Haley told the newspaper DeMint has been an excellent leader for South Carolina and the national conservative movement as a whole.
"His voice for freedom and limited government has been a true inspiration. On a personal level, I value Jim’s leadership and friendship. Our state’s loss is the Heritage Foundation’s gain," she said.
DeMint told the Journal he was joining Heritage because of a need to more effectively communicate conservative principles with the public.
"This is an urgent time," he said, adding that the 2012 election showed Republicans "were not able to communicate conservative ideas that win elections."
This post has been updated.
Jonathan M. Seidl contributed to this report.