Senator Jim DeMint resigning: Heritage Foundation next stop for influential South Carolina Senator

Washington (CNN) -- Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina will resign from his Senate seat as of Dec. 31 to take over as head of the Heritage Foundation, his office announced Thursday.

"It's been an honor to serve the people of South Carolina in United States Senate for the past eight years, but now it's time for me to pass the torch to someone else and take on a new role in the fight for America's future," he said in a statement.

Elected in 2004, he was re-elected in 2010. His term was not up until 2016. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, will name a successor. A special election will be held in 2014 for the last two years of his term.

DeMint, a kingmaker among conservatives, is highly influential and well-beloved in the tea party movement. He was the first to endorse Marco Rubio of Florida in his 2010 Senate bid.

The senator, 61, will move on to become the president of The Heritage Foundation, a longtime and well-respected conservative think tank in Washington.

"No organization is better equipped to lead this fight and I believe my experience in public office as well as in the private sector as a business owner will help Heritage become even more effective in the years to come," he said.

The Senate Conservatives Fund, the senator's super PAC, congratulated DeMint in a statement.

"Senator Jim DeMint has been one of the strongest voices in Congress for American taxpayers and we thank him for his outstanding service to this nation," said the group's executive director Matt Hoskins. "Senator DeMint has consistently fought for conservative policies and he's helped elect a new generation of conservatives who will continue this legacy."

CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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