WASHINGTON — Jim DeMint, among the nation's conservative leaders, stopped just short Thursday of endorsing Mitt Romney for president as the South Carolina senator called on the former Massachusetts governor's foes to re-evaluate their campaigns.
DeMint's appeal for Republicans to focus on defeating President Barack Obama came a day after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, another influential conservative, endorsed Romney and urged party unity.
"What I can tell conservatives from my perspective is that I'm not only comfortable with Romney, I'm excited about the possibility of him possibly becoming our nominee," DeMint told reporters on Capitol Hill.
At a time when a Romney staffer's Etch A Sketch gaffe is once again raising questions about Romney's conservative bona fides among the most stalwart Republicans, DeMint's vote of confidence could help the candidate solidify support among the party's base.
"His leadership skills, the fact that he hasn't lived his life in Washington — there's a lot to like there," DeMint said.
DeMint said he had no "immediate plans to do an endorsement," but without naming them, he urged former Sen. Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul to re-evaluate their campaigns.
"I think we all need to look at this presidential primary and encourage the candidates to do a little self-reflection here — what's good for the country," DeMint said.
"The sooner we can make a decision, I think the sooner we can focus on the real problem, which is Obama," he said.
DeMint made it clear that he views a possible brokered presidential convention this summer as harmful for Republicans' chances of making Obama a one-term president.
"They can drag it out to the convention if they want, but I think if some of them look at where they are, the best thing they can do is maybe look at throwing their support behind the one who might be our nominee — and that's beginning to look like Romney," DeMint said.
DeMint was a national co-chairman of Romney's 2008 presidential bid but has said that this time around he's focused on electing conservative senators and doesn't want to alienate potential donors by endorsing the wrong man.
Gingrich scored his only primary or caucus win outside his home state of Georgia when he won South Carolina's GOP presidential primary in January.
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