COLUMBIA, S.C.— Tea party favorite U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint says he won't endorse a candidate in the 2012 presidential race, taking what could have been a huge bump in popularity off the table for candidates in early voting South Carolina.
DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton on Monday confirmed a report that the senator would stay on the sidelines of the first nominating contest in the South.
"He's not going to bed endorsing in the presidential race," Denton said. "He will be focusing on electing conservatives to the United States Senate."
The Washington Post first reported that DeMint is staying out of the primary.
In January 2007, DeMint's early endorsement of Mitt Romney gave the former Massachusetts governor a bigger presence in a crowded political field that included former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the eventual nominee, Sen. John McCain.
DeMint helped paint a stark contrast between McCain and Romney on illegal immigration. Republicans were stirred enough at a GOP convention that they openly booed McCain's top South Carolina backer, Sen. Lindsey Graham.
DeMint has spent time this year trying to convince key Republicans not to endorse too early. He kept most of them out of the mix until Labor Day, when candidates appeared at a forum he helped organize.
For his part, Graham hasn't endorsed yet. Neither has Gov. Nikki Haley, who said last week she's unlikely to do so before next month. "It's back and forth," Haley said. "I change my mind every month."
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