While DeMint has done little to suggest he wanted to run for president, a scheduled trip this weekend to Iowa where he will address a conservative conference organized by Rep. Steve King had stoked speculation that the South Carolina Republican might be interested in running.
“He’s said all along that he isn’t running for President and his role in the primary is to encourage the candidates to embrace conservative principles,” said Matt Hoskins, spokesman for the Senate Conservatives Fund, DeMint’s political action committee.
“At the end of the day he believes he can do more to change America by continuing to change the U.S. Senate,” said a source familiar with DeMint’s thinking. “He doesn’t wake up everyday with a burning desire to be the commander-in-chief [and] he knows without a deep burning desire to be president it is near impossible to successfully run for the job.”
DeMint, a favorite of tea party activists, emerged as a major political force during the 2010 cycle when he endorsed a series of conservatives who were embroiled in primary races with more establishment-aligned candidates.
DeMint was an early backer of Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Mike Lee (Utah); that support often put him cross-wide with the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.). (DeMint also endorsed some people like Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Ken Buck in Colorado who won their primaries but lost in general elections.)
In the 2010 election cycle, DeMint raised $9.3 million for the Senate Conservatives Fund; the PAC has already collected more than $550,000 in the first two months of 2011. DeMint has said he aims to raise $15 million for the PAC in the 2012 election.
DeMint has also met — or is scheduled to meet with — almost every candidate looking at running for the Senate in 2012. He has yet to endorse in any race, however.
With DeMint formally out of the 2012 race, South Carolina , which has received less attention from candidates than either Iowa or New Hampshire to date, is a jump ball.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour will almost certainly make a strong push in the Palmetto State and has signed on Jim Dyke, who lives in South Carolina, as an adviser to his political action committee. Minnesota Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is from Georgia, is also a natural fit for the South Carolina Republican primary electorate. And, if former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee runs — an increasingly unlikely prospect — he would rightly be considered the South Carolina frontrunner.
South Carolina is scheduled to hold its presidential primary in February, following caucuses in Iowa and Nevada and the New Hampshire primary. Since South Carolina moved to the front-end of the presidential nominating calendar in 1980, the winner of the state’s primary has never not gone on to win the GOP nomination.