Washington (CNN) – Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican and tea party favorite, said Thursday he was 'excited' about the possibility of Mitt Romney becoming the GOP presidential nominee.
While not an outright endorsement, it is the closest the Republican kingmaker has come to making his preference known in the race for the White House.
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"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," DeMint said. "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."
DeMint's comments came the same day Romney met with influential Republicans on Capitol Hill, including House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan. Like DeMint, Ryan has not publicly backed a candidate in the GOP race, but is considered a prized endorsement for the White House hopefuls.
DeMint said Thursday he was "impressed" after his meeting with Romney.
"His leadership skills, the fact that he hasn't lived his life in Washington. There's a lot to like there," DeMint said.
The other candidates in the race – including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum – need to make an honest assessment of where the race currently stands, DeMint said.
"I don't have any immediate plans to do an endorsement but 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," he said. "The sooner we can make a decision, I think the sooner we can focus on the real problem which is Obama."
DeMint said taking the race to the GOP convention in August would be a mistake.
"They can drag it out to the convention if they want, but I think if some of them look at where they are the best thing they can do is maybe look at throwing their support behind the one who might be our nominee and that's beginning to look like Romney," DeMint said.
With his Romney comments, DeMint joined former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, another prominent conservative voice, in calling on the Republican Party to unite. Bush, who endorsed Romney, wrote that it was "time for Republicans to unite."
Romney's meetings with DeMint and Ryan came as part of a series of sessions with Republican members on Capitol Hill Thursday.
Romney met with Ryan and other members of the Wisconsin Congressional delegate ahead of that state's April 3 primary. Wisconsin Republican Rep. Sean Duffy said the meeting centered around Romney's plan for the country and his stategy for wrapping up the GOP nomination.
"There have been a few concerns that have been voiced," Duffy said. "But as we roll through the process I think more and more conservatives, and more and more tea party folks, will be comfortable with the governor."
Ryan has been widely lauded among Republicans for his budget plans, which call for major changes to taxes and entitlement spending. He has not backed a Republican candidate for president, but is considered a sought-after endorsement for the White House hopefuls.
Romney also met with members of Pennsylvania's Congressional delegation, a key state that holds its primary April 24.
A senior GOP aide said Romney also met with Washington state Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and Missouri Rep. Billy Long.
CNN's Ted Barrett, Kate Bolduan, Deirdre Walsh, Jim Acosta, Kevin Bohn and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.