Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) served notice Friday that he intends to play a major role in deciding who emerges from a sizable pack of GOP Senate contenders in Texas.
In an e-mail to supporters of his Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF), DeMint talked up two rumored candidates to replace Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who announced Thursday she will not be seeking reelection in 2012. Both of the candidates are supported by the Tea Party grassroots movement. His e-mail notably talked down state Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is seen by some political observers in the state as the Republican front-runner, should he decide to get in the race.
"Based on media reports following Senator Hutchison's announcement, the Washington establishment appears to be lining up behind Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R)," DeMint wrote in the e-mail. "However, the two candidates we hear about most from conservatives are Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams (R) and former Solicitor General Ted Cruz (R)."
DeMint continued: "As you may remember, SCF encouraged Texas Governor Rick Perry to appoint Michael Williams to Senator Hutchison's seat when she was expected to resign in the middle of her term. Michael is an outstanding conservative leader and he will be at the very top of our list as we consider candidates for an endorsement in the 2012 election."
Dewhurst put out a statement Thursday he is exploring a run, but he hasn't formally entered the race.
The e-mail read like a sigh of relief from DeMint, who had pledged to not endorse against Republican incumbents in 2012. He said Hutchison's decision to not seek another term offers the party another opportunity "to elect a principled conservative."
Hutchison was likely to face a primary challenge in 2012 if she opted for another term given conservative discontent with her voting record.
DeMint's e-mail is one that's sure to rankle some in the party establishment, who would rather the South Carolina conservative stay out of contested GOP primaries.
DeMint's PAC endorsed several Tea Party-backed candidates during the 2010 campaign season, backing Republican Senate candidates like Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Christine O'Donnell over party establishment favorites.
-Updated at 4:50 p.m.