U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint kicked off a three-day gathering of conservative activists Thursday, telling thousands of cheering supporters that the divided Republican presidential contest is good for the party and will produce a stronger nominee to take on President Barack Obama.
In a TV interview before his opening speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee’s annual convention in Washington, DeMint said the GOP race could go all the way to August’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
That could lead to delegates choosing the GOP nominee at a brokered convention for the first time since 1948.
“The way it’s set up this year – with the divided delegates – it could very well go to the convention,” DeMint told CNN.
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At the gathering of conservatives, DeMint said the fierce primary competition is good for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
“It’s kind of good to see them doing well at different points because it scares them all,” DeMint told the crowd. “It makes them realize that ‘this guy has something that I don’t have.’ ”
DeMint was national co-chairman of Romney’s 2008 failed presidential bid but hasn’t endorsed anyone this year. Thursday, he backed off his prediction last month that Romney will be GOP nominee.
“It’s up for grabs,” he told Fox News. “And ... it’s a good thing. All the candidates are becoming better. As you watched them, they have gotten a lot better, more sure of their positions.”
DeMint urged his party’s presidential candidates and their supporters to make no compromises with Obama and congressional Democrats.
“We don’t have shared goals with the Democrats,” DeMint told the conservative activists. “Every time we compromise with Democrats, we spend more, we borrow more, we grow government.”
Al Cardenas, head of the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC, welcomed DeMint back to the convention after a one-year boycott.
“Jim DeMint is one of America’s most courageous conservative leaders,” Cardenas said.
DeMint and several other prominent conservatives skipped the CPAC summit last year because it included GOProud, a group of conservative gays. The group was not invited this year.
DeMint did not give Obama any credit for the lower jobless rate or other signs that the economy is improving.
“There is nothing this president has done that makes this economy better,” DeMint said to loud applause at the CPAC convention. “This president is grasping at straws, trying to take credit for what the American people are doing.”