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Romney reverses course, will attend DeMint forum

The Hill reports that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has decided to attend the Labor Day presidential forum in Columbia, S.C., hosted by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and The American Principles Project. Romney had previously said he would not attend the forum due to a New Hampshire scheduling conflict, but now says he will reschedule that event.

Romney will join fellow Republican presidential candidates Gov. Rick Perry (Texas), Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain in attending the forum.

DeMint will join Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a prominent member of the Tea Party Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as National Organization for Marriage (NOM) chair emeritus Robert George on the moderators’ panel. The panel’s makeup suggests that attending the forum is necessary for any presidential candidate who wants to win over South Carolina’s social conservatives.

By initially rejecting the invitation and saying that he would focus on campaigning in New Hampshire, Romney may have been attempting to cultivate a moderate image demonstrating his viability in a general election campaign against President Barack Obama, in contrast to Perry and Bachmann, who are both seen as more appealing to movement conservatives. But Perry’s rapid rise to the top of the national polls has made it clear that courting social conservatives in the GOP primary is necessary, even for Romney.

DeMint holds tremendous influence over South Carolina Republicans, more so than either Gov. Nikki Haley or Sen. Lindsey Graham, as well as considerable national influence. He has also asked GOP leaders in South Carolina to hold off on endorsing candidates before Labor Day so as to maximize their impact on the race. This “Keep the Powder Dry” caucus reflects DeMint’s discontent with his early endorsement of Romney in the 2008 cycle.

DeMint also recently announced that he would not run for reelection, a move that could cement his status as a conservative party boss who is above the fray in the struggle for the 2012 nomination.

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