By JONATHAN KARL (@jonkarl) and SUNLEN MILLER (@sunlenmiller) ABC News
Conservative firebrand Sen. Jim DeMint has a message to fellow Republicans in Congress: If you support increasing the debt ceiling without first passing a balanced budget amendment and massive across-the-board spending cuts, you're gone -- destined to be swept out of Congress by a wave of voter anger.
"Based on what I can see around the country," DeMint, R-S.C., said in an interview for the ABC News Subway Series, "not only are those individuals gone, but I would suspect the Republican Party would be set back many years.
"It would be the most toxic vote," DeMint said. "I can tell you if you look at the polls, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, they do not think we should increase the debt limit."
DeMint is not just talking political analysis here. He has a significant fundraising base and has shown a willingness to use his campaign money to support or oppose fellow Republicans.
DeMint will use that political muscle to oppose fellow Republicans who don't stand firm on the debt ceiling issue. He said he will not support any candidate for Congress -- incumbent or challenger -- who does not sign a pledge promising not to vote for a debt limit increase without first passing a balanced budget amendment, making deep spending cuts and putting strict limits on future government spending. The same rule applies to presidential candidates.
"I don't have many litmus tests, but this is one: Any candidate who doesn't understand that we need to balance the budget should not be president of the United States," DeMint said. "So, I'm looking for candidates to sign the pledge."
During the 2010 midterm elections, DeMint played key role in several high-stakes Republican primaries, supporting insurgent conservatives often at odds with party leaders. Many of those insurgents -- including Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, Christine O'Donnell of Delaware and Ken Buck of Colorado -- went on to win their Republican primaries.
DeMint said he plans to get involved, once again, in Republican primaries for the 2012 elections. One race he has his eye on is the open Senate seat in New Mexico, which is being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman. Republican leaders have recruited former Rep. Heather Wilson to run, but she faces a challenge against the more conservative John Sanchez, New Mexico's lieutenant governor.
"She's a friend, but we've talked to her and I don't think Heather's going to be thought of as a conservative, and she's got a good opponent," DeMint said. "We may get involved with that race, but we haven't made a final decision. I won't commit, at this point, but I think we're going to have a strong conservative there."