Sen. Jim DeMint's keynote speech next month to an Iowa forum of Republican presidential candidates has fueled hopes among evangelicals and conservative activists that the South Carolinian will launch a White House run.
DeMint, overwhelmingly elected to his second term in November, will deliver the evening banquet address to a dozen GOP presidential hopefuls - and hundreds of party stalwarts - March 26 at a Des Moines hotel, scarcely 10 months before Iowa's leadoff White House caucuses.
In the audience will be Steve Scheffler, a Republican National Committee member from Iowa and an influential evangelical in the Midwestern state.
Scheffler would like to see DeMint, dubbed "the tea party senator" for his unyielding conservatism and fervent opposition to President Barack Obama, throw his hat into the Oval Office ring.
"He's very highly regarded among activists," Scheffler said. "His running would add a lot to the dialogue, not only in Iowa but across the country. I think he's a voice that needs to be heard."
Scheffler is among a growing number of Republican national committeemen who inquire about DeMint's intentions in talks with Glenn McCall, a Rock Hill retired bank executive who represents South Carolina on the RNC.
"He's extremely well liked by movement conservatives and tea party types across the United States," McCall said. "He definitely would have a lot of support if he ran. I hope that he's seriously considering it and doesn't rule it out entirely."
A DeMint presidential bid could be jumpstarted by South Carolina's early Republican primary - the exact date hasn't been set - which in recent elections has come on the heels of intraparty voting in Iowa and New Hampshire.
DeMint is ahead of the presidential pack in his home state with 24 percent support, followed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 20 percent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 17 percent and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at 12 percent, according to a poll released last week by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-affiliated Raleigh firm.
In an interview last week, DeMint gave a one-word response - "No" - when CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer asked if he's weighing a White House run.
DeMint expanded on that answer in an interview with McClatchy Newspapers.
"I have no plans to run," he said. "I'm focused on fighting in the Senate to save our country from fiscal catastrophe and helping elect more principled conservatives to join the fight."
Saying he absolutely intends "to be part of the debate," DeMint said the country is at a crossroads because of exploding federal deficits.
"We need to find a candidate who is willing to tell the American people the truth - government must do less, not more," DeMint said. "I'm going to do everything I can to ensure that the Republican nominee for president is a person willing to make the hard decisions to save our freedoms and put our nation back on the path to prosperity."
DeMint's talk of having "no plans to run" for president is just the kind of less-than-absolute, non-denial denial that translates into "I'm not ruling it out" in the political echo chamber of Washington.
"I know he says he's not thinking about running, but the door may be open," said Scheffler. "There's some talk that he still may run."