DeMint leaving Senate to head conservative think tank

WASHINGTON (WCIV) -- U.S. Senator Jim DeMint announced on Thursday that he would be leaving the Senate in January to head up The Heritage Foundation, the largest conservative think tank in the country.{}

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will have the duty of appointing his replacement.{}According to state election law, Haley's appointment will hold office until Jan. 3, 2015.

Pundits have floated Rep. Tim Scott's name as a likely appointee. His office released a statement Thursday saying he thought Haley would make the right choice:{}

"I first want to thank Senator DeMint for the tremendous work he has done on behalf of South Carolina and the nation. His commitment to conservative principles leaves a true legacy, and I have greatly enjoyed getting to know and work with him over the past two years.

Looking forward, Governor Haley will now appoint a new Senator, and I know she will make the right choice both for South Carolina and the nation."{}

DeMint's office issued a statement Thursday morning:

"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.

"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.

"I'm humbled to follow in the footsteps of Ed Feulner, who built the most important conservative institution in the nation. He has been a friend and mentor for years and I am honored to carry on his legacy of fighting for freedom.

"My constituents know that being a Senator was never going to be my career. I came to Congress as a citizen legislator and I've always been determined to leave it as citizen legislator. South Carolina has a deep bench of conservative leaders and I know Governor Haley will select a great replacement.

"One of the most rewarding things I've done in the Senate is work with the grassroots to help elect a new generation of leaders who have the courage to fight for the principles of freedom that make this country so great. I'm confident these senators will continue the legacy of conservative leaders before them."

Governor Nikki Haley on Thursday released the following statement:{}

"U.S. Senator Jim DeMint has served South Carolina and the national conservative movement exceptionally well. 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. I wish Jim and Heritage all the best in continuing our shared commitment to America's greatness."

Rep. Jim Clyburn said rumors of DeMint's departure had circled Washington in the months leading up to the announcement.

"Senator DeMint's resignation is not a surprise to me. He had said he would not seek re-election, and rumors have circulated in Washington for the past several months that he was headed to a conservative think tank. Joining the Heritage Foundation will allow him to more broadly apply his vision to the country's political discourse," he said.

DeMint's former state director, Luke Byars, said the senator's new role would allow him to effect change outside the U.S. Capitol.

DeMint, who previously ran a marketing firm, thought Republicans didn't do a good job communicating their message in the presidential race, he said.

"He knows how to communicate," said Byars, a political consultant. "This is a vehicle for him to push and pull on conservative issues on a national stage to get the attention of folks inside Washington. This lets him go back into something he loves. He's always been an idea guy."

DeMint was elected to the House in 1998. After three terms there, he was elected to the Senate in 2004 and re-elected in 2010.{}

The Associated Press contributed to this report.