Former NFL star Clint Didier, the Tea Party-backed Republican who took on Dino Rossi in a Senate primary this past year, isn't ruling out a run against Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) in 2012. 

Didier, who jumped in the midterm race against Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) well before Rossi got in, was largely shunned by the party establishment and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

While he lost handily to Rossi in the GOP primary, Didier did have the endorsement of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and he won the backing of a core group of Tea Party activists in the state, some of whom have already encouraged him to take another shot at the Senate.   

"I'm open to it and I'm certainly not going to rule it out," Didier said of a challenge to Cantwell. "But I'm not so sure we're going to see the same environment in 2012." 

Didier proved a thorn in the side of the national GOP in 2010. He hammered the NRSC and the party establishment continually during his primary contest with Rossi, and refused to endorse the Republican nominee after losing. 

"We need to be the ones picking our candidates in these races, not the party elites," said Didier, who blamed Rossi for the outcome of the race against Murray this past November.  Murray retained her seat.

"There was no message. No one knew where he stood," he said. "The Republican Party thinks it needs to move to the center and the left to get the votes, and that's exactly why we lost here." 

Should he opt to run in 2012, Didier said he doesn't expect to reconcile with the NRSC, and predicted the committee would likely find a candidate to oppose him again in the Republican primary. 

"There's way too much bad history there," Didier said of his relationship with the national party. 

Shortly after Rossi entered the race, Didier reached out to the NRSC and the committee met with him in Washington, D.C. this past summer. 

Former Washington state GOP Chairman Chris Vance said that given the lack of any obvious top-tier contenders to run against Cantwell in 2012, Didier could prove to be a force in a GOP primary then. State Attorney General Rob McKenna is expected to run for governor. 

Right now, Didier said his focus is on keeping his campaign message alive through his "Taking Back Washington" group, and said even with a six-seat Republican gain in the Senate this fall, he's worried GOP senators won't show enough backbone come January.   

"You can't raise the debt ceiling. You just can't do it," Didier said emphatically, noting that Republicans shouldn't fear the prospect a government shutdown. "Republicans in Washington have to realize the hard facts and start making some tough choices now."

-Updated at 12:45 p.m.