Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) naturally stirred speculation recently when he announced that he'd be traveling to Iowa in March to headline a conservative forum. Though he quickly followed up his travel plans by reiterating, in no uncertain terms, that his trip had nothing to do with a potential presidential run, recent comments from his advisers would suggest that the issue is not as final as he has made it out to be.
"He hasn't completely shut the door on running, and if there was a situation where there is a massive void in the group of candidates, who knows what would happen?," a DeMint adviser recently told CNN, explaining that there was only about a five percent chance that he'd actually announce his own campaign for the White House.
The primary mission at hand for DeMint appears to be cultivating an acceptable stock of conservative candidates to fill the GOP primary contests going toward 2012, a goal that the DeMint adviser tells CNN the South Carolina senator plans to do by "setting the bar high" for potential contenders.
How he plans to set potential benchmarks remains uncertain, however, especially if DeMint has no intention to jump into the race himself.
While DeMint endorsed early in the presidential election in 2008, selecting Mitt Romney, and frequently in the midterm elections in 2012, backing a host of conservative candidates who ran with various levels of success in November, CNN reports that one adviser says his boss may not throw his weight behind a particular candidate in this cycle at all, due mainly to a general lack of enthusiasm elicited by those currently thought to be in field.
Without a particular horse in the race as it is so far likely to stand, DeMint's sidelined presence could potentially serve to drive candidates vying for his approval further to the right, which could in turn further polarize the group of Republican candidates.
During and after the midterm elections, DeMint came under fire from fellow Republicans who saw his and the Tea Party's involvement in some of the nation's key races, especially in the Senate, as something that empowered candidates who were too conservative to win elections.