(CNN) - South Carolina state Rep. Nathan Ballentine will appear with Mitt Romney at a forum for small business owners near Columbia, South Carolina on Saturday, the former Massachusetts governor's first visit to the early primary state as a potential presidential candidate.
But Ballentine, one of Gov. Nikki Haley's top lieutenants in the state legislature, said he isn't quite ready to endorse Romney's nascent campaign, still in its exploratory phase, even though Ballentine backed his 2008 presidential bid.
"Obviously he is the guy that I thought should have been our president last time around," Ballentine told CNN. "He hasn't announced yet, but if he gets in the field I am going to give him strong consideration. He is an electable conservative and we need an electable conservative because the country has gone so far crazy left in the past few years."
Ballentine said he would pick a candidate after the state legislative session concludes in early June and said he is leaning Romney's way.
In April, though, Ballentine offered a candid assessment of Romney's chances in the state.
He told RealClearPolitics that Romney would face "an uphill battle" in South Carolina and suggested he focus his campaign on other key primary states like New Hampshire, Nevada and Florida. He said Romney might be too "polished" to connect with Republican primary voters in the Palmetto State.
But Ballentine told CNN Friday that he is "a loyalty kind of guy" and strongly hinted he will end up in Romney's camp again in 2012 once he wraps up business in the South Carolina statehouse.