Tea Party kingmaker DeMint sees 'war in Washington'

CHARLESTON, South Carolina Thu Nov 11, 2010 7:25pm EST

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CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - The Tea Party movement is just the "tip of the iceberg" of political change and a looming "war in Washington," South Carolina's conservative Republican Senator Jim DeMint said on Thursday.

"Tea Party candidates were the energy behind all of the Republican victories," said DeMint, a kingmaker behind the loosely organized network of conservatives and libertarians that helped Republicans capture the U.S. House of Representatives in last week's midterm elections.

"I think what we're seeing is the tip of the iceberg of a new wave of citizen activism that I think will realign politics," DeMint told Reuters in a telephone interview.

The senator, who easily won election to a second term in the November 2 elections, has strongly backed a new crop of conservatives, such as Republican Senators-elect Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.

But he has also been blamed for backing less viable Senate candidates supported by the Tea Party, whose loss at the polls may have helped prevent a Republican takeover of the Senate.

He insisted the Tea Party was a pivotal force in the growing public fight over government spending, taxes and deficits -- issues that helped Republicans win the House in the biggest power shift in Congress since 1948.

"In some ways, this is a war in Washington. This is a crossroads in a lot of ways," DeMint said. "There's a lot at stake. The government is clearly out of control on spending programs."

The Tea Party movement has been promoted among other groups by FreedomWorks, a nonprofit conservative organization that helped build it from a series of public protests against Democratic President Barack Obama's spending and reform policies. Former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey heads FreedomWorks.

Republicans backed by the movement lost in some key Senate races, including Sharron Angle who failed to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada.

Analysts have said Republicans would have had a stronger chance of capturing the Senate with more established candidates. But DeMint has offered no apologies.

"There's not one Republican senator who would have been elected without Tea Party support," he said.

"This is make-or-break time for Republicans in our country. We have to pull our country back from a precipice," DeMint said.

"I don't think people realize that we're borrowing money to pay back debt that is coming due. China and other countries are chiding our mishandling of our currency."

(Editing by Tom Brown and Mohammad Zargham)

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