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Steelman Courts DeMint

Missouri Senate contender Sarah Steelman met with Sen. Jim DeMint on Tuesday afternoon, her latest attempt to court the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party.

Steelman, who announced last week that she will challenge Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in 2012, is seeking to position herself as the Tea Party candidate in the race in the face of a potentially difficult Republican primary. Former Sen. Jim Talent (R) is seriously considering the race and would be the establishment favorite.

DeMint has become a key figure in the Tea Party movement. He backed 11 Tea Party candidates in the 2010 cycle, several in contested Republican primaries -- including Sens.-elect Rand Paul (Ky.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Mike Lee (Utah). DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund invested more than $5.6 million in those candidates for the cycle -- and that financial backing could be critical to Steelman, who has struggled to fundraise in the past.

Matt Hoskins, a spokesman for DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund, confirmed the meeting in Washington to Hotline On Call. Hoskins said the conversation focused on Steelman's outsider credentials.

"They discussed the Senate race in Missouri and the need to elect more leaders who will stand up to the big spenders in Washington," Hoskins said. "While the Senator has not made an endorsement in this race, he was very impressed with Steelman and encouraged her to keep working to build grassroots support."

The Senate Conservative Fund has also begun the vetting process and is considering endorsing Steelman, according to sources involved in the deliberations. If he does back her, Steelman would be DeMint's first endorsement of the 2012 cycle.

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