A whopping 55 members of Congress have endorsed Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination, compared with only seven for Newt Gingrich. But that doesn’t mean Senate and House leaders are trying to gang up against the former House speaker, Republicans tell The Hill.
Some contend that House Speaker John Boehner was part of a coup to oust Gingrich from the speaker position in 1997. But he denies that and, in any case, has promised to stay neutral during the presidential race.
“Newt’s been a longtime friend, but I’ve spent a long time this year avoiding getting involved picking winners and losers in the presidential contest,” Boehner said.
Still, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, a key Boehner ally, endorsed Romney, as have a handful of Boehner’s committee chairmen.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also has vowed neutrality in the race. But nine of his Senate colleagues have endorsed Romney, compared with zero for Gingrich.
Among high-ranking members to back Romney are House Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Thune, and House GOP Leadership Chairman Greg Walden. Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, reportedly is on the verge of endorsing Romney.
As for other congressional heavyweights, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy haven’t endorsed a candidate. House Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, has endorsed his fellow Texan, Gov. Rick Perry.
While Romney has scored about a dozen congressional endorsements during the past few weeks, Gingrich garnered just one.
One of Romney’s chief supporters, Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., sees many of his congressional colleagues joining the Romney bandwagon soon.
“For a while there, it was either Romney or Perry. For a while, it was Romney or [Herman] Cain. And I don’t think people knew them very well, including here [on Capitol Hill]. Everybody knows Newt here and everybody knows Romney,” Campbell told The Hill. “I think that Newt appearing to be the other alternative is going to motivate more members of Congress to endorse Romney.”
Some members anonymously expressed concern to The Hill that Gingrich would have trouble beating President Barack Obama in the election. “If Newt Gingrich is the nominee, we lose. That’s pretty much what everybody says,” a GOP congressman said.
Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, is one who is backing Gingrich. He appreciates the Georgian’s efforts to buck up the spirits of GOP House members after the disastrous election results of 2006 and 2008.
“There was a period of time right after the 2008 election when Republicans had collectively lost 50 seats in two election cycles, and our viability was clearly in question. Newt was the one who continued to come to our conference and encourage us,” Burgess told The Hill.
“He was maybe fulfilling the role of cheerleader at that point but I don’t recall seeing the other contenders down here telling us that cheerful persistence will pay off, and Newt did.”
In the end, the importance of congressional endorsements is overrated, says Tom Cole, R-Okla. “This [election cycle] is one where the American public, and particularly Republican primary voters, hold Washington and the Republican establishment in very low esteem,” he told The Hill.
“So why in the world, given that, do we think that people here are going to be able to influence the outcome how voters think around the country?”
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