By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Tea party ideological leader Sen. Jim DeMint says he's leaving the U.S. Senate in better shape than when he entered it.

DeMint shocked Washington on Thursday when he said he would step down on Jan. 1 to join the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. His departure comes just two years into a second, six-year term representing South Carolina.

The state's senior senator, Republican Lindsey Graham, says he didn't see DeMint's resignation coming.

While most of his colleagues were stunned, not all were saddened. DeMint sometimes frustrated follow Republicans by prizing ideology over electability.

He used his political action committee, the Senate Conservatives Fund, to bankroll candidates he backed. But candidates he actively supported in 2010 cost the GOP seats observers expected the party to win easily.

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