The rising profile of state Sen. Tom Davis has attracted attention from several GOP presidential candidates who are angling for the Beaufort Republican's support.
"To get an endorsement from someone like Tom Davis is a big deal," said former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, who announced a White House bid in June. "It would speak volumes to folks and make them take notice and give us a look."
Santorum is not alone in that sentiment.
Many of the top-tier GOP primary candidates -- including U.S. Reps. Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman -- have either met privately with Davis or plan to do so soon.
Davis isn't ready to make an endorsement yet. He remains a spectator -- albeit, one with ringside seats.
"After I have a chance to meet each candidate in person and ask them some questions, I will endorse, probably sometime next month," he said. "2012 is an incredibly important election year, and elected officials in particular owe it to their constituents to do their homework and resist the temptation to quickly jump on the bandwagon."
South Carolina's first-in-the-South primary is considered a milestone on the road to the GOP nomination. A strong endorsement from a local politician could raise an out-of-state candidate's profile and sway primary voters, party officials say.
"I think a lot of voters look to people like Sen. Davis," said Chad Connelly, chairman of the S.C. Republican Party.
Jerry Hallman, chairman of the Beaufort County GOP, agreed.
"It will definitely have a lot of impact on the voters in Beaufort County as to what Tom Davis recommends," he said.
That presidential candidates are courting Davis personally -- treatment typically reserved for governors and Statehouse officers -- is a measure of his growing influence among South Carolina conservatives.
Previously chief of staff to former Gov. Mark Sanford, Davis was elected to the S.C. Senate in 2008 and has been involved in several high-profile fights in the legislature.
Last month, the news website Politico, based in Arlington, Va., named Davis one of "50 politicos to watch" and suggested his endorsement could "carry some of the weight the ex-governor's might have without the ugly baggage."
Davis said recent calls from White House hopefuls are probably due in part to that national attention.
"I never had this kind of direct access to candidates before," he said.
South Carolina's primary is scheduled for February, so the endorsement game is still in the first stages.
"I think this is early," Connelly said. "I still hear that other candidates may get in, for goodness' sake."
But backing a candidate early before the field settles can pay political dividends, he said, especially if that candidate emerges as the victor. In other words, electoral winners don't easily forget those who gave them an initial push toward the finish line.
Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.
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