WASHINGTON — Exercising his newly influential role in national Republican politics, South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint on Thursday threw his support — and his financial resources — behind a conservative candidate in a Texas Senate race.
DeMint endorsed Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, who was appointed to his post by then-Gov. George W. Bush. Williams' GOP rival for the Senate seat is Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who's backed by many prominent Texas Republicans as the successor to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who's running for governor.
Williams, an African-American who served in the administrations of presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, said he was honored to get DeMint's endorsement.
"Senator DeMint and I are kindred spirits," Williams said. "We seek to bring bold conservative leadership to Washington. We believe in the principles of limited government, strong national defense and traditional family values."
DeMint aides said the South Carolina Republican will give Williams the maximum $10,000 from his Senate Conservatives Fund, which had $1.23 million as of Sept. 30.
"Michael Williams is the Democratic Party's worst nightmare," DeMint said. "He's a principled, outspoken conservative who will fight to stop the massive spending, bailouts and takeovers that have destroyed millions of jobs and piled a mountain of debt on our children and grandchildren."
The DeMint fund was the richest of all Senate leadership political action committees. Senators set up such PACs to provide money to other candidates, operating separate funds for their own campaigns.
In other recent bids to back conservatives over more moderate establishment picks, DeMint endorsed former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio in his uphill U.S. Senate race against Gov. Charlie Crist.
In California, DeMint is backing state Rep. Chuck DeVore against the favored Carly Fiorina, the former chief of Hewlett-Packard, in the Republican Senate primary.
In Pennsylvania, DeMint's early endorsement of former Republican Rep. Pat Toomey to challenge incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter helped compel Specter to switch parties and run for re-election as a Democrat.
Hutchison is challenging two-term Gov. Rick Perry in a primary race that's divided GOP leaders in Texas. After promising to resign her seat to run for governor, Hutchison has delayed her exit from the Senate.
Hutchison's current Senate term runs through 2012, which means she could remain in Congress if she loses her gubernatorial bid.
Dewhurst and Williams would face off in a special election next year — provided Hutchison gives up her Senate seat.
DeMint aides said they still think that will happen.
"We take her at her word," said Wesley Denton, a DeMint spokesman.
(Maria Recio contributed to this article.)
McClatchy Newspapers 2009