Jim DeMint announced Thursday morning that he is resigning in January from the U.S. Senate.
The Greenville resident, who was elected to his second term in 2010, will be the next president of The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
“I’m leaving the Senate now, but I’m not leaving the fight,” DeMint said. “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.
The senator, a vocal advocate for term limits, had already pledged not to seek a third term.
“My constituents know that being a Senator was never going to be my career,” DeMint said in a statement.
DeMint was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998. He left the House after limiting himself to three terms and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004.
DeMint will take over from Ed Fuelner, who helped found the Heritage Foundation in 1973 and has been its president since 1977.
Republicans from South Carolina to Washington, D.C., praised DeMint.
“U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint has served South Carolina and the national conservative movement exceptionally well,” S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley said. “His voice for freedom and limited government has been a true inspiration.”
“Jim DeMint is a small businessman who ran for Congress to change the way Washington works,” said state party chairman Chad Connelly. “Without question, he succeeded. Sen. DeMint is a conservative rock star. At the Heritage Foundation, he will be in an even greater position to spark revolutionary change.”
“Jim DeMint has been a consistent champion of the conservative cause,” said S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson. “While we lose his voice in the United States Senate, his support for South Carolina values will still be felt in Washington and across America.”
“Jim helped provide a powerful voice for conservative ideals in a town where those principles are too often hidden beneath business as usual,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “There is no question in my mind that he raised the profile of important issues like spending and debt and helped galvanize the American people against a big government agenda.”
DeMint has helped elect a number of like-minded colleagues in recent years through the now-independent Senate Conservatives Fund — including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Haley will appoint a replacement, who will serve until a 2014 special election is held to fill the final two years of DeMint’s six-year term. South Carolina’s other senator, Lindsey Graham, is also up for re-election in 2014.
“South Carolina has a deep bench of conservative leaders and I know Gov. Haley will select a great replacement,” DeMint said.
Speculation is rampant on who Haley might pick as a successor, including U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, or former Attorney General Henry McMaster.
“A crucial U.S. Senate session begins in just weeks,” said Dr. Oran P. Smith of the Palmetto Family Council. “Therefore, we call on Gov. Nikki Haley to act quickly but carefully to choose a replacement who will fight for both fiscal and family conservatism as Jim DeMint has.”
DeMint is expected to depart Capitol Hill before the new Congress is sworn in next month.
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