Video: DeMint: Tea party shows ‘American awakening’

  1. Transcript of: DeMint: Tea party shows ‘American awakening’

    VIEIRA: Kelly O'Donnell , thank you very much . South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint has endorsed a number of tea party candidates, including Delaware 's Christine O'Donnell . Senator DeMint , good morning to you.

    Senator JIM DeMINT (Republican, South Carolina): Hey, good morning.

    VIEIRA: This morning's New York Time notes the -- New York Times -- notes the clear divide within the Republican Party saying, and I'm quoting here, "If ever there was proof that the tea party and the Republican Party do not necessarily go hand in hand, it is Christine O'Donnell 's victory over the establishment." But the paper goes on to say that you, Senator, could be a model for how the two might co-exist. How important is it to you that this gap be bridged?

    Sen. DeMINT: Well, it's important because the tea party represents a broad cross-section of the American people , and actually it's a small part of an American awakening of people who are concerned about the debt, the spending, the massive growth of government and the takeovers. And really what we're doing here in Washington has united America . When I go to a tea party , 40 percent of the people there are independents and Democrats . And what I'm trying to do is help the Republicans here in Washington understand that the tea parties don't want to be Republicans . We as Republicans need to embrace the ideas of balancing the budget, of trying to return some fiscal sanity here to Washington . You know, and I'm not as concerned about what Christine O'Donnell said 14 years ago as I am that she's going to help us balance our budget here in Washington ...

    VIEIRA: But, Senator, if you're trying to help your party, your party would argue that you're really hurting the party, that these kinds of candidates cannot win general elections.

    Sen. DeMINT: Well, the important thing to me first is to save our country . It's really that critical. These trivial political labels do not mean as much right now when we're fighting for the survival vs. a bankruptcy of our country . And I think the American people , in Delaware , all over the country , want to see that sense of urgency from the people who represent them in Washington . They're not concerned whether the Republicans get the majority or not, they want people in Washington who understand that balancing the checkbook is not an extreme idea. So...

    VIEIRA: But practically speaking, do you believe that these candidates can win in November?

    Sen. DeMINT: Well, Meredith , they told me Marco Rubio couldn't win, and he is blowing it away in Florida because he's telling people the truth. And they said the same thing about Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania and Rand Paul in Kentucky . They're well ahead in the polls because people want a change in Washington . And you really can't change Washington unless you change the people who are here. And so I think that's what you saw in Delaware , the people are looking at what these candidates are going to do when they get to Washington , and they're ready to throw out the bums and bring in new folks. And I think we're going to do that in November.

    VIEIRA: Are you ready, if these candidates were to be elected, or if the Republicans were to come into power or take over Congress , obviously, control of Congress , are you ready to take on a leadership role to challenge the current Republican leadership?

    Sen. DeMINT: Well, I like our current leadership. Mitch is doing a great job and so is John Cornyn with our Senate committee . I've got the leadership role I want. I'm head of the Conservative Steering Committee within the Senate . I'm managing the Senate Conservatives Fund , which, by the way, is senateconservatives.com if folks want to help some of these candidates. But I want to support our leadership team. And what we're trying to do now is get a group of Republicans that provide a clear contrast with the Pelosi / Obama agenda which is massive debt and government growth. I think...

    VIEIRA: Before I let you go, Senator -- an I tough on very, very quickly -- you are for re-election this November and your Democratic opponent, Alvin Greene , has said repeatedly that he will -- he would want to debate you. Is that going to happen? Will you debate him?

    Sen. DeMINT: We have no debates scheduled. And I 've got a couple of opponents in South Carolina , but, Meredith , my main opponents are here in the White House and in Congress . So that's where I'm spending most of my time.

updated 9/16/2010 9:04:38 AM ET 2010-09-16T13:04:38

Sen. Jim DeMint on Thursday dismissed worries by some of his fellow Republicans that tea party-backed politicians like Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell are too conservative to win in November.

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"The tea party represents a broad cross-section of the American people," DeMint, R-S.C., told NBC's "TODAY." He said Republicans need to embrace tea party goals like limited government and balanced federal budgets.

DeMint, whose endorsement boosted O'Donnell late in her primary race, cited other tea party favorites who are doing well in polls, including Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio and Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul. Both defeated better-established Republicans in primaries.

"You can't change Washington unless you change people who are here," he said. "People are ready to throw out the bums."

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After O'Donnell's victory Tuesday, former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove, who is trying to fashion GOP majorities in Congress, said of her general election prospects, "This is not a race we're going to be able to win." And her primary opponent, Rep. Mike Castle, said through a spokeswoman he does not intend to support O'Donnell.

Video: DeMint: Tea party shows ‘American awakening’ (on this page)

But other Republicans, including Sarah Palin and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, rushed to O'Donnell's defense, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney sent $5,000 from his political action committee for her campaign.

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DeMint, who became a force in Republican primaries this spring and summer, denied having conflicts with the GOP establishment in Washington. "I like our current leadership," he said. "I want to support this leadership team. What we're trying to do now is get a group of Republicans that provide a clear contrast with the Pelosi-Obama agenda."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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