COLUMBIA, S.C. -- As the Republican campaign to replace President Barack Obama heats up in early voting states like South Carolina, U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint is releasing a book discussing the roots of the tea party crusade and his hopes for the movement in 2012.
"I believe that the 2012 elections may be our last chance to stop this insanity of spending and borrowing and debt," DeMint told The Associated Press recently. "I'm trying to recruit more Americans with this book."
In "The Great American Awakening," out Monday from B&H Publishing Group, DeMint describes the rise of America's tea party movement -- which he helped foster -- and the contentious Republican conference meeting that he said made him realize he was ready to battle his own party in the wake of Democratic victories in the 2008 elections.
But DeMint said he placed as much blame on wasteful Republicans in the U.S. Senate, and he became determined to speak out against them. DeMint said he felt empowered by support from fed-up Americans as he spoke at tea party rallies in 2009.
"I decided my work could no longer be with other senators," DeMint wrote. "I would have to work with the American people to elect a new class of senators who would help me to stop the spending, debt, and the expansion of the federal government."
DeMint then began beefing up his multimillion-dollar Senate Conservatives Fund, started in 2006 to promote U.S. Senate candidates. Going against the wishes of other Republicans - including some incumbents who were his friends - DeMint says he started endorsing candidates whom he felt represented conservative tenets. He made relentless rounds on cable news outlets to promote his picks, earning himself the moniker of a tea party "kingmaker."
Even as he threw himself into races around the country, DeMint said he struggled with misgivings about running for his own re-election. He was first elected senator in 2004.
"I didn't want to spend another six years in Washington, but I didn't want to give up either," DeMint wrote. He did run, and easily won the primary and general election.
His general election opponent, Alvin Greene, had surprised journalists and politicos by winning the Democratic primary. But the unemployed military veteran's long-shot bid quickly unraveled.
DeMint writes about how he ignored Greene's challenge and instead focused on raising $9 million online for other candidates, many of whom were elected. One of them, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, wrote the forward to DeMint's book.
Not all of his picks -- including Delaware's Christine O'Donnell and Nevada's Sharron Angle -- were successful, but DeMint brushes aside criticism that his support of non-traditional candidates cost Republicans the chance to take control of the U.S. Senate.
"The Republican establishment was clearly biased against conservative candidates, and it was undermining the party's ability to win elections," DeMint wrote.
The conflicts reveal a widening split within the Republican Party between pragmatic dealmakers trying to help their states and ideological conservatives intent on slashing the federal government even at the expense of needs back home.
DeMint writes in almost messianic terms as he repeatedly casts himself as fulfilling a mission assigned to him by God to "save freedom," prevent bankrupting the future and pull the nation back from a moral abyss.
With an eye to 2012, DeMint said he's ready for more hard work, throwing an early endorsement behind Ohio state Treasurer Josh Mandel in that state's U.S. Senate race.
Writing a book often precedes a run for higher office, but DeMint said "The Great American Awakening" is no portent of future ambition.
"I've got a pretty unique role here in the Senate," he said. "If we're not able to elect a large, new group of conservatives, it almost doesn't matter what kind of president we have."