Mitt Romney met Thursday with Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), House Budget Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul RyanTurf battle erupts over hot cyber issue Ryan goes all-in on Puerto Rico Different playbooks for Ryan, McConnell in wild 2016 MORE (R-Wis.) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in Washington, according to sources.
The meetings gave the GOP front-runner an audience with some of the Republican Party's top conservative kingmakers, just as the air of inevitability appears to be taking hold around Romney's presidential campaign.
Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorWis. Republican launches long-shot bid to oust Ryan Republicans who vow to never back Trump NRCC upgrades 11 'Young Guns' candidates MORE (R-Va.) has already endorsed Romney. Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerRyan goes all-in on Puerto Rico Wis. Republican launches long-shot bid to oust Ryan Young beats Stutzman in Indiana Senate GOP primary MORE (R-Ohio) has vowed to stay out of the GOP race, although his aides have said he will endorse when a clear nominee emerges.
Neither Ryan nor DeMint has endorsed Romney this year, though DeMint did endorse the former Massachusetts governor during his 2008 run for the White House.
An aide to DeMint said it was a "courtesy meeting" and not a precursor to an endorsement. DeMint has said he won't endorse in the Republican primary.
Romney requested the meeting and DeMint agreed to meet with him, as he has done with other GOP presidential candidates, the aide said.
DeMint spoke to reporters after the meeting and did not endorse Romney but said he was "comfortable" with the him and other conservatives should be too.
"I can tell conservatives from my perspective is that, I'm not only comfortable with Romney, I'm excited about the possibility of him possibly being our nominee," the senator said, according to CNN. "Again, this is not a formal endorsement and I do not intend to do that right now but I just think we just need to look at where we are."
He also seemed to indicate Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich should think about exiting the race.
"I think we all need to look at this presidential primary and encourage the candidates to do a little self-reflection here — what's good for our country," DeMint said. "The sooner we can make a decision, I think the sooner we can focus on the real problem which is Obama."
The timing of the meeting with Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee, is also notable, coming the same week that Ryan unveiled a politically risky budget proposal. Romney said he supported Ryan's plan in a statement released after the plan was released to the public.
Romney started his day at a breakfast fundraiser with senators and other lawmakers, hosted by Sen. Roy BluntRoy BluntOvernight Healthcare: Medicare fight looms on Capitol Hill Senate GOP hardening stance against emergency funding for Zika Senate Dems accuse GOP of walking away from Zika deal MORE (R-Mo.), one of Romney's top backers in the Senate. He raised $400,000 at the standing-room-only event at the Hyatt hotel, according to a source close to the Romney campaign.
His official schedule lists him as in town for "private meetings," which come two days after his double-digit win the Illinois primary and the day after a highly coveted endorsement from former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.).
Romney's meeting with Ryan came in the context of a session with Wisconsin's congressional delegation that Rep. Sean DuffySean DuffyGOP rep: Trump ‘doesn’t have any ideas’ Lawmakers launch Central America Caucus in meeting with Guatemalan leader Black Dem accuses GOP rep of racism in abortion remarks MORE (R-Wis.), a Tea Party star, also attended.
Ryan's office confirmed the lawmaker met with Romney this morning, along with his fellow Wisconsin lawmakers.
It's one of several meetings with congressional delegations on Romney's schedule in Washington, D.C., according to a source close to Romney.
Even tacit approval from DeMint could be a major boon for Romney, who continues to struggle with the Tea Party wing of the party and to convince many GOP leaders that his conservative credentials are solid.
The support of DeMint and his Senate Conservatives Fund played a major role in boosting a number of successful candidates two years ago, including Sens. Marco RubioMarco RubioAgainst all odds: It’s Trump How Trump did it Different playbooks for Ryan, McConnell in wild 2016 MORE (R-Fla.), Rand PaulRand PaulGOP operative Ed Rollins joins pro-Trump super-PAC Overnight Energy: Clinton makes her pitch to coal country Rand Paul calls on Clinton to apologize for coal job losses MORE (R-Ky.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). DeMint's campaign committee recently gave $500,000 to the Club for Growth to boost fiscally conservative Republican candidates in congressional races.
- This story was posted at 10:55 a.m. and has been updated.
— Russell Berman and Erik Wasson contributed