A GOP sigh of relief

Mitt Romney took a huge step toward capturing the Republican presidential nomination by easily winning the New Hampshire primary Tuesday.

At least for one night, Romney and his team celebrated the big triumph. And so did many congressional Republicans.

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Romney is the choice of the Republican establishment in the nation’s capital, with 63 lawmaker endorsements, compared to just 26 for the rest of the GOP field combined.

But endorsements don’t win presidential races, as Romney found out when he had the most support from Capitol Hill Republicans in 2008. 

But with his back-to-back wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, Romney is now the favorite to win South Carolina. A win there could end the race, for all practical purposes. 

He certainly should not get cocky. A month ago, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) was leading by double digits in three out of the four early states. Gingrich’s surge worried Republican lawmakers, most notably Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

The Hill reported last month that McCain was poised to endorse Romney, believing that a Gingrich nomination would hurt the party. McCain opted to go public with his backing the day after Iowa, timing it perfectly for Romney’s next contest in New Hampshire.

McCain’s backing helped Romney in the Granite State, where the 2008 presidential nominee is highly regarded. 

The concern from GOP kingmakers about Gingrich and other Republican presidential contenders is that they could hurt House and Senate members down ballot.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who has one congressional endorsement — Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) — rejects the notion that picking a “moderate” is the best way to defeat President Obama.

But Republican members of Congress do not agree.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have not, and will not, endorse in the GOP primary. 

But that hasn’t stopped Boehner’s and McConnell’s lieutenants in leadership; Romney is the pick of Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). 

Romney has repeatedly said “Washington is broken,” so he hasn’t been touting his support from leaders in the nation’s capital. But collecting the support of lawmakers, especially high-profile members, is important. 

The front-runner candidate has work to do before receiving official endorsements from Boehner and McConnell. Those announcements won’t come before Romney has the nomination clearly in hand. But it’s safe to say that the Speaker, who wants to remain Speaker, and the minority leader, who wants to become majority leader in 2013, are pleased with Romney’s win in New Hampshire.