Romney Picks Up Key Endorsement Ahead of Monday's Debate

Former presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty announced today he is supporting Mitt Romney in the race for president. Pawlenty will serve as a national co-chairman of Romney’s campaign.

“The next president is going to need to lead on the economy in a new way, and that is Mitt Romney,” Pawlenty said. “I’m proud to endorse him as president, and I believe he can be a transformative president.”

In a statement announcing Tim Pawlenty as one of the national co-chairman of his campaign, Romney praised the former Minnesota governor. “Tim will be a trusted adviser as I move forward with my campaign. Tim has always been an advocate for lower taxes, reduced spending and an environment where jobs can be created. It is an honour to have him serve as co-chair to my campaign for the presidency.”

Pawlenty took to the airwaves Monday morning to support Romney. In one interview, on Monday morning’s “Fox and Friends” program, Pawlenty had high hopes for Mitt Romney’s political future. “I believe he’s going to be our party’s nominee,” Pawlenty said.

One of the interesting aspects of watching a presidential nomination process unfold is seeing who the former contenders support once they drop out. While their voice is not going to determine who wins or loses the nomination, they do provide a key insight into where voting blocs of the party may take their support.

Pawlenty dropped out of the race last month after finishing third in the Iowa Straw Poll, which was won by Michele Bachmann. Bachmann, like Pawlenty, is from Minnesota. One might have expected Pawlenty to send his endorsement her way, since they are from the same state. Yet he chose Romney. Why?

Primarily because Pawlenty and Romney share a similar philosophy and background, and were rivals for the same core voter group: Republicans who actually want to win the 2012 election. To win the Presidency, the nominee is going to have to win over some independents, centrists, and perhaps even some conservative-minded Democrats. None of those three groups are particularly fond of the Tea Party, and all three groups would be more likely to support Mitt Romney than they would Rick Perry.

With that in mind, the attacks that Pawlenty made today on Rick Perry’s statements about Social Security are very telling of where the GOP mindset is on this issue.

Since its inception, Social Security has been seen as the “third rail” of American politics — touch it and die. Rick Perry, both in his book “Fed Up” and last week at the Republican debate, called the program a lie and a Ponzi scheme, and indicated a desire to get rid of it as it exists. Romney’s campaign seized the moment to show how out-of-touch Perry is with reality.

It’s clear that Romney sees this as a winning issue in his battle against Perry. It’s also clear that Romney, much like President Obama, wants to remain above the fray. In other words, he wants someone else to do the attacking for him. (It’s generally a great strategy, politically.) Enter Tim Pawlenty.

“Gov. Romney wants to fix Social Security. He doesn’t want to abolish it or end it,” Pawlenty said. “Gov. Perry has said in the past that he thought it was ‘failed.'”

For now, Rick Perry leads the Republican field by a slim margin over Mitt Romney. But, as Al Gore can tell you, presidential races are not national races, but state-by-state races. And, depending on how things play out this fall, it is in the state-by-state polling where Mitt Romney could pull ahead — even with Perry’s early lead in the national polls.

This is where Pawlenty can really help Romney, even right now. Before he dropped out, Pawlenty was polling reasonably well in Iowa. Since Perry jumped in, however, he’s risen to the top of the pack in Iowa. If Romney can pull in some of those Iowa Pawlenty supporters, he can close the gap between himself and Perry in Iowa, leaving Romney in better position for the nomination fight going forward.

We’ll see how the Perry-Romney (and Ron Paul!) battle unfolds in the next debate, scheduled for Monday night at 8 p.m. EST on CNN. The participants are expected to be Perry, Bachmann, Romney, Paul, Gingrich, Cain, Santorum, and Huntsman.

 

— John Thorpe

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