Tea party favorite Sen. Jim DeMint is likely to endorse Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination. DeMint supported Romney in 2008, and their ongoing friendship and common background could bring conservatives to the former governors camp.
"You can find really good things about all of the candidates. But I'm real comfortable just waiting because there's still a lot to be determined," DeMint added. "I don't pretend to have that much sway. ... I've found endorsements are only important until you make it. After that, people say: 'I don't agree with that.'"
Romney is viewed in some quarters as less conservative than other Republican presidential candidates. The former Bay State governor took some moderate positions on social issues when running for office there, although he later disavowed most of them during his 2008 presidential bid. Romney's Massachusetts health care plan has been widely panned by Republicans for its mandate to purchase insurance and for its other similarities to the law President Barack Obama signed in 2010.
But even if their politics haven't always been perfectly aligned, DeMint and Romney have much in common. Both came to politics from the business world Romney from the private investment and management firm Bain Capital, which he helped launch, and DeMint from an advertising and marketing company he founded and operated. Their political advisers have also been intertwined: Romney's 2008 state director Terry Sullivan who currently serves as Rubio's deputy chief of staff was DeMint's 2004 campaign manager.
Despite conservative and tea party angst over Romney, these commonalities and the inability of anyone thus far to knock Romney out of contention could facilitate another DeMint endorsement. That the two men seem to genuinely like each other and have stayed in touch since the 2008 race is viewed as an asset for Romney, who could use the seal of approval of a conservative like DeMint to bolster his standing with the GOP's conservative flank.
"Gov. Romney has a great deal of respect for Sen. DeMint and his efforts to return fiscal sanity to Washington. He considers the Senator a friend and a leader in the conservative movement," Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams said.
South Carolina Republicans, including DeMint and Sen. Lindsey Graham, say the state's primary is fluid and within reach for almost any of the candidates. An American Research Group survey of South Carolina GOP primary voters released last week showed Georgia businessman Herman Cain in front with 26 percent, followed closely by Romney with 25 percent. Texas Gov. Rick Perry had 15 percent and 12 percent were undecided. The lead previously belonged to Perry.
As DeMint considers whom to endorse or whether to endorse at all he said he wants to hear more from all of the candidates regarding their views on the Congressional appropriations process, the super committee and what Washington should do to balance the federal budget. The Senator said candidates have not been specific enough on those issues. "They have not been real out front," he said.
DeMint is "real impressed" with Cain, calling him a "business guy" with a plan that "he's sticking to, and I think that's good." DeMint noted his relationships with former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), whom he called one of his best friends. Perry is the only top candidate DeMint has not met in person, although they've spoken by phone. The Senator said he would reserve judgment on the Texas governor.
But many Republicans still expect DeMint to settle on Romney, as long as the candidate doesn't fade from the race or appear too uncompetitive in South Carolina. "He likes to talk about Romney as the last man standing," said one Republican lobbyist with relationships in the Senate.
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