Sen. Jim DeMint is turning his principled stand against federal aid for Charleston into a call for more campaign cash.

Last month, Sen. Lindsey Graham and Congressman Henry Brown came to Charleston ringing the alarm over DeMint’s refusal to support a $400,000 federal grant that would come in the form of an earmark in a Congressional spending bill. The Army Corps of Engineers needs the money for a preliminary study on deepening the Charleston Harbor for larger ships. Earmarks have been included for ports up and down the East Coast, putting Charleston at a competitive disadvantage if it can’t secure similar funding.

A longtime opponent of earmarks, DeMint has refused to support the Charleston port request and insiders say it’s DeMint’s silence that has kept Charleston out of the running. In a letter today to his supporters, DeMint says he’s proudly holding his ground, regardless of South Carolina’s economic fortunes … oh, and please send a check.

“Senate Democrats who write the spending bills have chosen to fund their pork before more vital projects like the Charleston Port,” DeMint wrote. “They’ve spent millions of our tax dollars in recent years on little-used ports on the West Coast at the request of Democrat Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. South Carolina is now paying the price for Washington’s failure to reform.”

Let’s make this clear: it’s not up to Senate Democrats like Boxer and Feinstein to convince anyone that the Port of Charleston is a national priority — that’s what (a majority of) South Carolinians elected Jim DeMint to do! But he won’t do it. With Mark Sanford railing against stimulus aid and DeMint losing his lunch over every earmark request, you can hardly blame Senate leaders for wondering whether they should spend their money somewhere else.

But they’re still willing to give Charleston the money — they just need a unified South Carolina delegation to say we really want it. Apparently, we don’t.

Write-in challenger Nathalie Dupree has made DeMint’s port opposition a key issue in her campaign.