Many lawmakers holding back support for Romney's 2012 presidential bid

Many lawmakers holding back support for Romney's 2012 presidential bid

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney has racked up a number of congressional endorsements but a handful of supporters of his 2008 bid have yet to endorse him this time around.

Nearly two dozen lawmakers who endorsed Romney in 2008 have refrained from signing onto his campaign for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.

A handful of lawmakers who have presidential candidates running from their respective home states told The Hill that they will likely endorse Romney publicly when those contenders exit the field. Romney leads all White House GOP hopefuls in congressional endorsements, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) a distant second.

One lawmaker revealed that Romney approached him to ask to be his second choice; a lesson he learned on down-ballot strategy from his failed attempt in 2008.

Romney supporter Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) said that the former Massachusetts governor has learned from his mistakes. Romney has cinched up endorsements from key individuals who opted against entering the race, for example, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R), or contenders who dropped out of the race like Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.).

“Four years ago, when they got to Florida and [former New York City Mayor and 2008 GOP presidential contender Rudy] Giuliani endorsed [2008 Republican presidential nominee Sen. John] McCain [R-Ariz.], that that was the beginning of the end of Romney’s campaign. This time, every candidate that’s gotten out this far has endorsed Romney or nobody …  I think that’s a function of his making sure that he doesn’t make enemies along the way while winning the primary and I think the way he’s handled it has been brilliant,” Campbell said.

The California lawmaker, who has been whipping potential endorsements for Romney, explained that other members aren’t ready to endorse anyone publicly, but are leaning toward Romney.

“I’ve done some whipping for Romney ... even if [members have] said, ‘I’m not ready to endorse,' they said, 'I don’t know who else I would endorse (besides Romney).'"

Lawmakers from Georgia, Pennsylvania and Texas in particular who endorsed Romney in 2008 have been reluctant to state their support with former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), Herman Cain, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Perry vying for the party’s nomination.

Georgia Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R), endorsed Romney four years ago, but now is considering backing his friend, constituent and rising favorite Herman Cain.

“Well, we’re going to wait and see how the field checks out. We haven’t made our mind up yet. We’re still listening to people. Herman Cain is a personal friend of mine, lives in my district, so we’re talking to Herman. So, we’re holding off a little bit,” Westmoreland said.

Texas Rep. Lamar Smith (R), who also endorsed Romney in 2008, told The Hill to “ask [him] later” whether he would endorse Romney for his 2012 bid.

At least one member – who has endorsed one of Romney’s competitors — said that Romney has become a better candidate since Perry entered the race.

“I think the fact that Perry got into the race, [Romney] became a better candidate and he went into these debates to protect the lead and Romney made Perry earn the lead — I think it’s been a lot better for him. What’s also working for him is that Santorum and [Rep. Michele] Bachmann [R-Minn.] are attacking Perry from the right so that they are doing a lot of the spade work for Romney,” the lawmaker told The Hill.

Others said that Romney has yet to prove his conservative stripes. Conservatives still smart from Romney’s support, as Massachusetts governor, for a measure that shares similarities with President Obama’s healthcare reform law.

One lawmaker, who endorsed Romney in 2008 but has yet to do so this time around, said Romney "still hasn’t come up with the answers that he needs to come up with to be a bona fide conservative candidate.”

Still, GOP lawmakers — including those who have endorsed Romney’s competitors — concede that the former Bay State governor has developed into a much stronger candidate for president.

Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) endorsed Romney in 2008, but has not yet done so this year. 

Bilbray gave a cryptic explanation for not hopping on board the Romney train yet.  “I have a lot of personal friends that I feel very close with,” Bilbray said.

The California lawmaker said that he has spoken with Romney over the years but has not done so recently. Bilbray pointed out that Romney was a constituent in his San Diego-based congressional district.

That being said, Bilbray noted much improvement in Romney as a candidate for president this go-round.

“Romney’s really impressed me, especially how much he’s grown in the last four years. Fact is, the guy gets immigration. He understands that it’s the employer – ‘it’s the employer stupid.’ And being a former employer, I think he realizes that that has to change.”

For one key lawmaker, who endorsed Romney in 2008, and officially endorsed Romney on Friday, it comes down to who will defeat Obama.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told The Hill, “[Romney] can beat Obama. He is much more organized, much more adept at debate, he’s 100 percent improved candidate from the last time.”

This article was updated at 12:30 p.m.