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Rick Perry's Absence At DeMint Forum Sign Of Strength In Key Primary State

GOP presidential candidates in South Carolina Monday.
Stephen Morton
Getty Images
GOP presidential candidates in South Carolina Monday.

If Sen. Jim DeMint's Labor Day Republican presidential forum demonstrated anything, it was that Texas Gov. Rick Perry is so confident about winning over South Carolina Tea Party devotees, including the senator, that he could beg off attending the event without any political risk.

Perry, who had been in the Palmetto State, returned home, he said, to be with his citizens as many of them face massive wildfires.

It was a chance to remind everyone that he is the lone governmental chief executive in the GOP field. It certainly helped him look presidential and avoid any George W. Bush-Katrina comparisons.

Left unsaid by Perry was that returning to Texas presumably gave him more time to prepare for Wednesday night's candidates' debate at the Ronald Reagan presidential library.

It's a critical debate for him being his first after officially entering the race last month and, as Politico reports, Perry isn't known as a strong debater which may explain why he has in the past kept his appearance at a minimum.

The fact that Mitt Romney attended the forum he initially had planned on skipping was an obvious demonstration of how much Perry has eroded the former Massachusetts governor's confidence about still being able to get the nomination by dealing as little as possible with the Tea Party.

No longer the frontrunner, Romney is now being forced to compete on Perry's terms.

And on DeMint's terms as well. DeMint is one of Congress' leading channelers of the Tea Party movement and is viewed as the closest thing South Carolina has to a Republican political kingmaker.

DeMint assured that he and South Carolina would still be courted aplenty for months to come by the Republican candidates by making it clear after his forum that if he knew who he'd be endorsing eventually, he for the moment wasn't saying. From The State news outlet:

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Sen. Jim DeMint, one of the most sought-after endorsements in this Republican presidential primary season, urged his supporters Monday to withhold their support from candidates and "continue to listen."

DeMint's comments came after he moderated a two-hour forum at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, in which the Greenville Republican personally questioned five of the leading GOP candidates on health care, federal spending and the national debt.

But afterward, DeMint said he was not any closer to making up his mind.

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Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.