South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint (R), whose Senate Conservatives Fund is a major Tea Party fundraising force, chimed in Friday morning on which candidates he may endorse in the open seat Texas Senate race.
In an e-mail to supporters less than 24 hours after Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) announced she won't seek re-election, DeMint poured cold water on the potential candidacy of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) and touted potential contenders Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams (R) and former solicitor general Ted Cruz (R).
"Based on media reports following Senator Hutchison's announcement, the Washington establishment appears to be lining up behind Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst," DeMint said. "However, the two candidates we hear about most from conservatives are Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams and former Solicitor General Ted Cruz."
DeMint's quick draw email suggests he will try to play a significant role in what is expected to be a crowded Republican primary. DeMint waded in to several Republican primaries in 2010 and backed insurgent candidates who, in several cases, went on to beat establishment favorites. Those included now-Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).
The email also sets up the possibility of another battle between DeMint and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. By wading into the Texas race, DeMint is encroaching on NRSC Chair John Cornyn's (Texas) home turf. And DeMint hasn't backed away from that confrontation before. In 2009 when it looked like Hutchison would vacate her seat to run for governor, DeMint went ahead and endorsed Williams.
An NRSC spokesman said Cornyn is friends with all of the candidates and intends to stay neutral in the primary.
In his e-mail, DeMint sang Williams' praises again, but stopped short of an endorsement.
"Michael is an outstanding conservative leader and he will be at the very top of our list as we consider candidates for an endorsement in the 2012 election," DeMint said.
Updated 11:29 a.m. with remarks from the NRSC