Rubio courts Jim DeMint loyalists ahead of 2016

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, is considering a presidential bid in 2016.

Story highlights

  • Marco Rubio is meeting with influential conservatives in South Carolina
  • The Florida senator is considering a presidential bid for 2016
  • South Carolina is a key early primary state for presidential nominating contests
Jim DeMint may be long gone from the Senate and now running the conservative Heritage Foundation, but his blessing is still in demand for Republican presidential candidates marching through his home state of South Carolina.
Even out of office, DeMint keeps counsel with a small but loyal network of Republican donors in South Carolina, an influential collection of business leaders and former state GOP chairmen who have relationships across the state's political spectrum.
During the 2012 presidential race, the DeMint donors flirted with endorsing a presidential candidate and invited the cast of Republican contenders to a quasi-debate, the "Palmetto Freedom Forum," in Columbia.
Despite the attention showered upon him, DeMint ultimately stayed neutral in that primary. His allies, meanwhile, splintered among various campaigns.
This time around, Marco Rubio is hoping to make an early good impression.
The Florida senator, whose rise in the tea party-fueled 2010 election was due, in part, to DeMint's early endorsement, has quietly arranged to headline a private fundraiser in Greenville next month for the group's think tank, the Palmetto Policy Forum, a Republican source familiar with the plans told CNN.
The pending visit makes him the first likely Republican contender to come knocking on the DeMint crew's door.
Details of the event have yet to be sorted out, but it will take place on October 22, just a day before Rubio mentor Jeb Bush, another possible 2016 candidate from Florida, will host a re-election fundraiser in Columbia for Gov. Nikki Haley.
Rubio is also planning to attend a grassroots fund-raiser for the South Carolina Republican Party in Columbia alongside Sen. Tim Scott, the man who replaced DeMint in the Senate.
With a team of political advisers that includes Terry Sullivan, a strategist who labored in the trenches of South Carolina politics for over a decade, Rubio has started to put in serious facetime with the state's conservative community as he builds a case for the Republican nomination in 2016.
Rubio was last in the state in August, when he tangled with a group of "DREAMers" who crashed a conservative barbecue in Anderson and loudly criticized the senator for turning his back on a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
On that same trip, he held court with a group of social conservative leaders at the Greenville home of Lisa van Riper, the president of South Carolina Citizens For Life. He also met privately with officials from Bob Jones University.