Bush en­dorses Rom­ney

Ex-pres­i­dent, Ru­bio call for party to unite around Mitt

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

Mitt Rom­ney col­lected en­dorse­ments from an ex-pres­i­dent and one of the GOP’S big­gest up-and-com­ing stars this week as pow­er­house Repub­li­cans said the race for the party’s nom­i­na­tion is es­sen­tially over and urged vot­ers to get be­hind the for­mer Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor.

The moves came as one op­po­nent, Newt Gin­grich, was lay­ing off cam­paign staff, and as Mr. Gin­grich and Rick San­to­rum were test­ing out new creative ways of rais­ing money for their strug­gling cam­paigns — all signs that the long Re­pub­li­can con­test may be wind­ing down.

For­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush and fresh­man Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Florida be­came the lat­est high-pro­file Repub­li­cans to call on the party to unite be­hind Mr. Rom­ney.

Mr. Bush, who met with the can­di­date in his Hous­ton of­fice Thurs­day, called Mr. Rom­ney a “good man” who would “make a great pres­i­dent.”

“I do think it’s time for the party to get be­hind Gov. Rom­ney,” he said.

The en­dorse­ments co­in­cide with polls that show vot­ers also are mov­ing in Mr. Rom­ney’s di­rec­tion ahead of some of the most an­tic­i­pated up­com­ing con­tests on the nom­i­na­tion cal­en­dar. Head­ing into Tues­day’s pri­mary in Wis­con­sin, the for­mer Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor holds a dou­ble-digit lead. And he’s nip­ping on the heels of Mr. San­to­rum in Mr. San­to­rum’s home state of Penn­syl­va­nia, which votes April 24.

In the hunt for the 1,144 del­e­gates needed to sew up the nom­i­na­tion be­fore the Re­pub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion this sum­mer in Tampa, Fla., the As­so­ci­ated Press count has Mr. Rom­ney at 568, more than his Re­pub­li­can ri­vals com­bined. Mr. San­to­rum has 273; Mr. Gin­grich, 135; and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, 50.

Mr. Rom­ney’s ri­vals, though, are cling­ing to the idea that they can block him from cap­tur­ing the magic num­ber of del­e­gates, trig­ger­ing a con­ven­tion floor fight that could open the door to the nom­i­na­tion.

But that mes­sage ap­par­ently isn’t res­onat­ing with vot­ers. A CNN poll re­leased this week found a ma­jor­ity of Repub­li­cans would like to see Mr. Gin­grich and Mr. Paul call it quits, while al­most four in 10 vot­ers said Mr. San­to­rum should drop out.

On Wed­nes­day, Mr. Ru­bio said a floor fight at the con­ven­tion was a “recipe to de­liver four more years to Barack Obama and our coun­try — for­get about the Re­pub­li­can Party — our coun­try can­not af­ford that. We have got to come to­gether be­hind who I think has earned this nom­i­na­tion and that’s Mitt Rom­ney.”

Pa­trick Grif­fin, se­nior fel­low at the New Hamp­shire In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics at St. Anselm Col­lege, said that Mr. Rom­ney’s ri­vals are go­ing through the usual stages of grief that of­ten ac­com­pany dy­ing po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns.

“They are pre­par­ing to ac­cept the un­de­ni­able here,” Mr. Grif­fin said.

He added that there is more of a sense among Repub­li­cans that Pres­i­dent Obama is vul­ner­a­ble, es­pe­cially af­ter this week’s open-mi­cro­phone in­ci­dent where the pres­i­dent could be heard telling Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more “flex­i­bil­ity” af­ter the elec­tion to work with Rus­sia on mis­sile- de­fense plans.

For­mer Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, a Re­pub­li­can, said the sooner the party gets be­hind Mr. Rom­ney, the bet­ter be­cause the race is driv­ing up the can­di­date’s neg­a­tives. A Washington POST/ABC News poll re­leased this week showed half of those sur­veyed now hold un­fa­vor­able views of the GOP front-run­ner.

“Rather than help­ing the party, it has proved to be di­vi­sive and hurt with in­de­pen­dents,” Mr. Davis, a Rom­ney sup­porter, said of the grind-it-out race. “The adults are now step­ping into the sand­box and say­ing, ‘Let’s get cleaned up and go af­ter the real game.’ ”

Some Repub­li­cans ar­gue the pri­maries have strength­ened Mr. Rom­ney’s can­di­dacy in the same way a rugged pri­mary chal­lenge from Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton helped Mr. Obama in 2008, but G. Terry Madonna of the Franklin and Mar­shall Cen­ter for Pol­i­tics said there’s a big dif­fer­ence.

“I think there is a grow­ing re­al­iza­tion . . . that this bat­tle has to end. That with each pass­ing week it has got­ten per­sonal, it’s got­ten di­vi­sive,” Mr. Madonna said.

Sen. Marco Ru­bio en­dorsed Mr. Rom­ney. Mr. Ru­bio said a floor fight at the con­ven­tion was a “recipe to de­liver four more years to Barack Obama and our coun­try — for­get about the Re­pub­li­can Party — our coun­try can­not af­ford that.”

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