Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., isn't endorsing in the Wisconsin Senate race yet, but it's clear where his sympathies lie.
In canvassing conservative supporters about whether his Senate Conservatives Fund should back a candidate, he takes subtle but clear swipes at former Republican governor Tommy Thompson while offering glowing praise to Republican Mark Neumann, who's running as the conservative in the race.
"If Mark Neumann is elected, there is no question that he will fight to save freedom," DeMint writes in an email to supporters. "I could go on and on about Mark Neumann's conservative credentials, but you get the picture. He's the real deal."
DeMint goes on to warn that if conservatives don't unite behind a single candidate, "the conservative vote could be divided among two or three candidates, allowing a more liberal candidate to win a plurality."
He also writes that "media reports indicate that a Democrat-lite Republican could challenge Neumann for the nomination. This challenger is well-known statewide and has major fundraising connections, but he also backed ObamaCare and will not stand up for our values when it matters." He doesn't mention him by name, but that's a clear reference to Thompson, who has been taking heat from conservative critics in recent weeks as he gears up for a run.
The key takeaways from DeMint's note: first, as Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald gets set to enter the race, and state Sen. Frank Lasee appears a possibility, there is a risk that the conservative vote could get splintered. That would work to Thompson's advantage.
Second, if prominent conservatives begin to quickly line up behind Neumann (it's clear that DeMint likes Neumann, but also is keeping a close eye on what the Club For Growth does), Thompson will have a tough race on his hands.