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Why did Sen. Jim DeMint quit the Senate? (+video)

Tea party hero Sen. Jim DeMint will head the conservative Heritage think tank, and some say freedom from party politics could make him an even bigger player on the right.

By Staff writer / December 6, 2012

Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina speaks to media on Capitol Hill in Washington in this file photo from earlier this year. DeMint announced Thursday that he is resigning to take over at Heritage Foundation.

Alex Brandon/AP/File

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Washington

Jim DeMint, one of the tea party’s founding fathers and leading intellectual lights, is leaving the US Senate for the presidency of the Heritage Foundation think tank – a move that some say may give him a greater clout as an arch-conservative voice uninhibited by party leadership.

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The Associated Press reports on US Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina resigning his seat to head up the Heritage Foundation.

The senator from South Carolina is stepping aside two years into his second Senate term. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) will name his replacement, who will serve until a special election in 2014.

Senator DeMint’s term will be remembered less for personal policy achievements than the political organization he built – and the contingent of deeply conservative senators he helped elect. DeMint played a key role in cultivating, funding, and stumping for a veritable who’s who of senators idolized on the right: Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Sen.-elect Ted Cruz of Texas.

“Jim has been a source of inspiration for many of us who came to Washington to fight for our core conservative beliefs,” said Senator Lee in a statement. “He has shown that getting things done doesn’t have to mean abandoning your principles. For too long, he was a movement unto himself in the Senate, keeping the torch lit for free-market principles and limited government.”

But having built the ranks of conservatives in the Senate through his own advocacy and the "super political-action committee" that he founded, the Senate Conservatives Fund, he now enters a different role as the head of the nation’s largest and most prestigious conservative think tank.

In his new post at the Heritage Foundation, he won’t be able to orchestrate or participate in the same sort of direct political activity due to the foundation’s status as a tax-exempt organization

“He’ll be somewhat limited in his political activity,” says Chris Chocola, the president of the like-minded Club for Growth. But “he expands his ability to influence policy and conservative thought through Heritage. There’s others like Rand Paul and Mike Lee and Ted Cruz that will work hard to support future colleagues of theirs.”

The foundation does maintain a separate political advocacy wing known as Heritage Action, however.

“They have separate but complementary functions,” says Jim Weidman, a spokesman for the Heritage Foundation. “Heritage is there to help lawmakers see the light on policy and Heritage Action is there to hold their feet to the flames.”

Indeed, some believe that by leaving the strictures of the Senate, DeMint may be able to expand his influence even more widely.

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