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Jim DeMint, senator from South Carolina and Corner reader, called to talk about his decision to endorse Mitt Romney for president.  He told me he took a careful look at all the candidates running and decided that, even though it’s just January 2007, he needed to make a public commitment.  “If I’m going to get in, the time to make a difference is now,” DeMint says.  “My good friends Lindsey [Graham] and John McCain have made a whole lot of calls, and people have wondered, is McCain the only alternative?  I’ve talked to a lot of candidates, and frankly it’s been a long time since I’ve seen anybody light up a room like Mitt Romney does.”

DeMint, who spent most of his life in private business, admires Romney’s business background and believes Romney has shown the talent to apply that experience to government.  “He has demonstrated, when he stepped into government in a very difficult state, that he could work in a difficult partisan environment, take some good conservative ideas, like private health insurance, and apply them to the need to have everyone insured,” DeMint says.  “Those kind of ideas show an ability to bring people together that we haven’t seen in national politics for a while.  We don’t need the nation to be more polarized.”

I asked DeMint about abortion and Romney’s 2004 change from a pro-choice to a pro-life position.  DeMint said he and Romney discussed it at length.  “I said, ‘It’s an issue that’s very important to me, and to the people of South Carolina, and I’m concerned, I want to know where you are, and I want to know why you changed your mind,’” DeMint says.  DeMint says Romney discussed the issue in great detail, telling the story of someone his family knew who died of an illegal abortion many years ago — “I think he came by his previous position honestly,” DeMint says — continuing through his study of genetic research and the question of when life begins.  “He feels passionately that the value of human life begins at conception,” DeMint says.  “The idea that he might have changed his mind is very appealing to me, because we’re not going to win that debate unless people change their minds and think it through.”

I asked DeMint about the Mormon factor. DeMint, who has a lot of support among primary-voting evangelical conservative Republicans in South Carolina, described it not as a negative but as a plus.  “Romney’s in a good position to unite the faith community around some key values, morals, things that he has demonstrated in his life that don’t necessarily go back to any particular doctrine,” DeMint says.  “His doctrine is not the same as mine, but when he translates that into what he is doing as an elected official, he’s talking about the values, the morals, the integrity that need to be brought back to the public debate.”