Sen. Jim DeMint’s strategy for 2012: Wait and see

Amanda Carey Contributor
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Last week, rumors swirled that Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina could be a potential presidential candidate, and while that may no longer be the case, the conservative undoubtedly will play a leading role in the 2012 election cycle.

But ask the senator what his playbook will be for getting conservative Republicans elected, and his answer is: “I think it’s going to take some time to see which candidate is really willing to do the things necessary to stop us from running off a fiscal cliff, like demanding passage of a balanced budget amendment,” DeMint told The Daily Caller.

“I’m encouraging folks to wait and see who proves they deserve our support,” he added.

DeMint’s strategy consists of one goal that certainly won’t be easy to achieve: solidifying conservative grassroots support behind a single candidate. It’s hard because the field ranges from two distant ends of a Republican continuum that has grown in recent years making it increasingly likely that the conservative support could end up very splintered.

It’s even more challenging considering what typically happens early on in the primary process. Iowa picks a candidate, New Hampshire picks another, and DeMint’s home South Carolina accurately selects the nominee. Since 1980 the winner of the Republican South Carolina primary has gone on to win the party’s nomination.

The senator, it seems, is hoping things will be different this time around.

One source close to DeMint told TheDC that the senator is “waiting for the grassroots to solidify around a candidate.”

To make that happen, noted the source, DeMint has participated in forums in Iowa and New Hampshire and has plans to do so in South Carolina. The forums are “efforts to unite Republican activists around a set of principles not a politician,” the source added.

“The way to encourage the eventual nominee to fight for conservative issues isn’t to split into different candidate camps before the primary debate has really started.”

The same is largely true for Senate races. DeMint’s political actions committee – Senate Conservative Fund – offers clues as to which races will be watched. Though it is still early, the Senate races in Virginia, New Mexico, Texas and Florida are already shaping up to be ones to watch.

In all of those, a DeMint endorsement could weigh heavily.

“He has great respect within the Tea Party Movement and his endorsements carry a lot of weight,” said Levi Russell, communications director for the Tea Party Express. “He’s such an important player in the Senate, and has broad support from Tea Partiers.”

It worked in the 2010 midterm elections. Then, DeMint publicly supported then-underdog candidates Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, among others. All went on to win the election.

In South Carolina, even, DeMint’s endorsement helped propel conservative Mick Mulvaney who defeated Democrat incumbent John Spratt, who had been in Congress since 1983.

Those successes will only make a DeMint endorsement even more sought after in the presidential primary process. But the senator, who supported Mitt Romney in 2008, is serious about waiting to see him stick to the philosophy more than the politics.

“I’ll continue to work with the grassroots in South Carolina and around the nation,” he told TheDC. “We need a candidate that will have the courage to stand on commonsense principles of less spending, less debt and more freedom.”