Jim DeMint running for president?

No, he hasn’t officially declared yet. But he has stopped denying he’s interested, which is a sign that the conservative firebrand and junior republican senator from South Carolina may well be thinking about a bid:

News that South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint will travel to Iowa on March 26 to address a conservative forum organized by Rep. Steve King is sparking another round of chatter that DeMint might launch a dark horse bid for the White House in 2012.

The Republican gadfly has been adamant in denying such intentions for more than a year – just Wednesday, he gave CNN’s Wolf Blitzer a flat “No” when asked if he plans to seek his party’s presidential nomination. But the ground may be shifting in DeMint-world, and several of his closest advisers and political confidantes are now telling CNN that he is at least open to a presidential bid if a suitably conservative candidate fails to emerge from the early and wide-open GOP field.

“I think that you can read into it that he sees he has a role in the process and he sees he hasn’t completely shut the door,” said one DeMint adviser asked about the Iowa foray. DeMint currently sees his role in the 2012 process, the adviser said, as “setting the bar high” for the presidential contenders when it comes to advocating for a small government agenda.

“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?,” said the adviser, who was quick to caution that there is only a five percent chance his boss will run.

Aside from Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, who is currently deciding between a presidential run and a gubernatorial bid in his home state, DeMint’s advisers are having a difficult time envisioning a candidate that he could get behind.

That could be a game-changer. The thing that people don’t realise about Jim DeMint is that he’s an extremely intelligent, polished politician. He’s perhaps further to the right than Sarah Palin, but he’s respected as much as he is feared because he’s actually a great media performer who can talk a good game without coming off as phoney – and do the folksy thing without sounding stupid. He’s loved on the right-wing blogosphere, and yet people don’t have the same negative image of him that they do of Michele Bachmann or other tea partiers. I still think that he’s probably looking more at the VP spot, possibly as either conservative cover for a more moderate candidate like Mitt Romney, or as an experienced figure (a sort of ‘Dick Cheney’) to balance out a presidential ticket topped by a policy lightweight like Sarah Palin. But he’d be one of the most formidable opponents for President Obama in 2012, mobilising the conservative base without turning off moderates. He should be feared, not laughed at.

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