Last held public office: U.S. Senator from South Carolina, 2005-present
Tea Party candidates in the 2010 midterms had no greater champion than Jim DeMint, who bucked his party's establishment to endorse, nurture and fund candidates like Rand Paul in Kentucky and Marco Rubio in Florida. He's been a leader of Tea Party legislative initiatives like the push to ban earmarks, and would be one of the most socially conservative contenders in the 2012 field, opposing abortion even in cases of rape and incest. And as a Senator from South Carolina, DeMint is already well established in one of the nation's first primary states.
Outside of the party's conservative base, DeMint lacks the name recognition and pizzazz of some other prospective contenders. Viability in the general election has historically been more important to Republican primary voters than ideological purity. (They swallowed years of resentment and nominated John McCain in 2008 in hopes of holding on to the White House in a Democratic year.) DeMint may not appeal to those simply looking for the candidate with the best chance to win wide appeal and oust President Obama.
Representative quote: "Tea Party Republicans were elected to go to Washington and save the country not be co-opted by the club. So put on your boxing gloves. The fight begins today."