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They don’t quite see themselves as gatekeepers to the Republican presidential nomination.
But a trio of GOP Senators from the early presidential nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina made it clear Tuesday that they expect to play an influential role in the 2012 Republican primary contest.
Sen. Jim DeMint is planning an effort similar to the one he undertook in 2010, when he bucked the GOP establishment to visibly support conservative Senate candidates. DeMint said he intends to shape the primary beyond his home state of South Carolina.
“I plan to get involved before South Carolina because our candidates need to win in Iowa and New Hampshire as well as South Carolina — at least two of the three,” he said in an interview. “What I’m going to be trying to do around the country is to get the voters to think about the kind of person we want as president, before they think about who we want. What do we want them to believe? What are their values and principles? What are their priorities?”
DeMint expects to endorse a candidate before the Iowa caucuses, which kick off the quadrennial presidential nominating process, in an effort to exert maximum leverage. Last cycle, DeMint endorsed and raised money for nearly two dozen GOP Senate candidates running in competitive primaries, and while only a handful were elected, he garnered credibility among conservative activists for the effort. The South Carolina Republican said he planned to be similarly active in the presidential primaries.
DeMint said he has already fielded calls from some potential presidential candidates looking for advice on South Carolina and the policy priorities that they should focus on to appeal to GOP primary voters there. DeMint, who in 2008 endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who plans to run again, said that he has no plans to run for president and that “it would take some kind of extraordinary event that I can’t imagine to get me in.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte has yet to endorse in the broad field of potential candidates — and could remain neutral. But the New Hampshire Republican has left the door open to backing someone as the contest unfolds.
The freshman Senator won a hard-fought primary last year before cruising to victory in the November general election, and her backing in the crucial first-in-the-nation primary state could be attractive to presidential contenders.
Sarah Palin endorsed Ayotte in her Senate race, and the former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee is among the field of potential 2012 candidates.