And so it’s all coming down to Jim DeMint.

Well, that’s a bit strong. Here’s the state of the GOP nomination contest, as we sit just weeks from the first event contested by the voters. Only two candidates remain who are conventionally credentialed and within the broad mainstream of the party: Mitt Romney, who half or more of voters and party actors don’t trust, and Rick Perry, who hasn’t had a thing go right since he declared his candidacy.

As Mark Blumenthal reports, the result so far has been that GOP politicians and other party actors are moving far more slowly than usual to make their final choices. And yet the primaries are coming (possibly in December, but more likely in early January), and with them a new urgency to make the final decision, even if it’s one that many politicians might want to have done without leaving fingerprints. Endorsements aren’t everything, but they’re an excellent hint to what other party actors are thinking — and the right endorsements are also good cues to leaning of the rest of the party.

So who matters, the way that Ted Kennedy mattered when he endorsed Barack Obama? I agree with Steve Benen and Ed Kilgore: the one person poised to make a difference is South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint. DeMint is one of very few Republicans who is absolutely safe from accusations of RINO-dom, and therefore would be risking little if he decides to go with Romney. He’s also someone who could send a strong signal to conservative politicians and activists that Perry is the one to rally around to stop Romney. Now, I’m not saying (nor are others) that DeMint can single-handedly deliver the nomination, but only that his decision is almost certainly a very important one. And that he has a lot more freedom to maneuver here than many other GOP leaders.

Hey, reporters! It’s time to keep a very close eye on Jim DeMint — and to find out, if possible, just what policy commitments or other requests he might be demanding in exchange for his support.