DeMint demurs on endorsement in South Carolina primary

posted at 10:50 am on January 16, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

So much for conservative consolidation.  After a congress of conservative activists bestowed its blessing on Rick Santorum as their endorsed consolidation candidate, the most prominent conservative in South Carolina will take a pass on endorsing anyone:

One of the most sought-after South Carolina politicians said Monday he would not endorse a candidate ahead of the Palmetto State’s primary.

Sen. Jim DeMint, who has offered praise to all of the candidates in the field, said in a statement, “I do not have a favorite in this race and I will not endorse a candidate.” …

“I’ve gotten to know each of the candidates over the past year and they are all far superior to Obama,” DeMint said. “My view reflects what I’ve heard from Republican voters across South Carolina who remain divided in this race.”

DeMint would have been a big get for any candidate in the GOP field, given his high regard among conservative voters. Many of the contenders have met with the senator in person, looking to gain his backing.

Indeed they did, and a DeMint endorsement would have reverberations far outside of South Carolina, too.  So will his non-endorsement.  Tony Perkins hoped to get conservative voters to focus on a single alternative to Mitt Romney by gathering 150 leaders of the family-values movement to make their own endorsement.  Rick Santorum won that battle on the third ballot, and could have hoped to gain some votes from the columns of Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, if not pressure them to pull out of the race.  Instead, the non-endorsement that follows on the heels of Perkins’ efforts will encourage the other candidates to remain in the race, and takes at least a little of the wind out of the sails of the endorsement of Santorum.

This doesn’t help Mitt Romney directly, of course, especially since DeMint endorsed Romney in 2008.  The lack of a DeMint endorsement in 2012 will help fuel conservative skepticism over Romney’s bid in this cycle.  However, to the extent that a non-endorsement slows or prevents conservative consolidation in South Carolina, that does nothing but boost Romney’s chances of winning the primary in the Palmetto state and threatening an early end to the Republican nomination fight.

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