Races of the Week:DeMint vs. Tennenbaum

The so-called experts said that three-term Rep. Jim DeMint could never win the Republican primary for U.S. Senator from South Carolina. Their argument was that DeMint was too conservative (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 91%), and would come under attack as one of the 25 House Republicans to oppose the $300 billion prescription drug package favored by the Bush Administration and for having voted against the original version of the President’s “No Child Left Behind” plan. In addition, the “experts” pointed out that the 53-year-old DeMint was from the “wrong” part of the Palmetto State to win a Senate seat (Greenville) and that he was being opposed by two candidates who have already won statewide (a former governor and attorney general) and a third who was a multi-millionaire developer.

But, in the end, DeMint made the experts and their arguments look silly. He placed second in a five-candidate primary and in the run-off, rolled up a never-expected 59% of the vote. But to those who knew Jim DeMint, it really was no surprise. He had made a lifetime of facing big odds and then facing them down. The product of a broken home, he put himself through Greenville University and Clemson with jobs such as performing in a rock ‘n’ roll band. He then spent 15 years in the advertising business and eventually started his own company–all the while giving of his spare time to such community causes as the Rotary Club.

Now DeMint faces still another formidable obstacle: Inez Tennenbaum, two-term state superintendent of public instruction and husband of a wealthy businessman who has been a major backer of Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party. With venerable Sen. Ernest (Fritz) Hollings stepping down, Democrats are counting on Tennenbaum’s personal wealth and proven political skills to keep his seat in their hands. Already, John Kerry-style, the Democratic nominee has tried to “move to the middle.” She has said she is against gay marriage and for the death penalty, that she supports the President on Iraq, and some (but not all) of the Bush tax cuts.

“She’s talking a moderate game, all right,” says DeMint, “But, look–she now says she would have supported the ban on partial-birth abortion. But after taking more than $350,000 from the [pro-abortion] EMILY’s List, she can’t come close to claiming she’s anti-abortion. Everything I have done is to try to devolve education to the local level. I opposed the first version of “No Child Left Behind” solely because it didn’t have enough of a role for local authorities. In her job, she has resisted rather than helped the growth of charter schools and other signs of local control.”

Noting the many analogies between Tennenbaum and running mate Kerry, DeMint dryly observed: “And she never talks about him or the national ticket.”

So this is a race between a talented campaigner with formidable resources and a conservative with a record who somehow has managed to overcome big odds. As Jim DeMint put it, “My opponent is trying to recreate herself, and I’m running on my record of six years in Congress.” Sounds like a rather cogent case for conservatives to rally to Jim DeMint’s banner–and help him once again, to be the “overcomer.”