Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) endorsed Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination on Wednesday in New Hampshire.
“I am really here for one reason and one reason only, and that is to make sure that Mitt Romney is the next president of the United States,” McCain said. “New Hampshire is the state that will catapult him on to victory in a very short period of time.”
The endorsement helps to solidify Romney’s position in the upcoming New Hampshire primary. He has polled consistently as a front-runner in the state and currently holds first place with 43 percent support in the Suffolk University/7News two-day tracking poll of likely voters leading up to the Jan. 10 vote.
McCain is a favorite in the Granite State, where he won the Republican primary in 2000 over the eventual nominee, George W. Bush, and again in 2008. According to Romney's campaign, McCain will go on to campaign with Romney on Thursday and Friday in South Carolina along with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who has also endorsed Romney. The three will campaign at two rallies in Charleston and Conway.
The Hill reported McCain was close to endorsing Romney in early December, although McCain said in June he wasn’t likely to endorse before the primary.
"I just don't think it's appropriate for me to weigh in. The primary voters can figure it out pretty well for themselves,” he told The Arizona Republic newspaper.
Romney campaigned for McCain in 2008, after he dropped out of that Republican presidential race. McCain became the GOP nominee but ultimately lost to President Obama. Romney introduced McCain as “a friend” and “a giant among men” before McCain took the stage at the event in New Hampshire.
Ann Romney and McCain’s wife, Cindy, joined the two at the event. Romney was introduced by New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) and former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu (R). The endorsement and show of support demonstrates Romney’s popularity among congressional Republicans, a fact several of his GOP rivals have downplayed or even attacked.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Gov. Rick Perry (Texas) have both said they don’t have congressional endorsements because they haven’t asked for them.
“I don't think it means anything,” Gingrich said of McCain’s endorsement Wednesday morning on conservative Laura Ingraham’s radio show.
"Congress is at 5 percent approval. Running around getting all the names of people with 5 percent approval doesn't get you very far," he said. "I will stick with Tea Party and grassroots supporters and I will let Mitt Romney gather up all the names in Washington."
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, struggling to challenge Romney in New Hampshire, made a similar comment to the Concord Monitor on Wednesday.
"I have great regard for Sen. McCain. I love the man," Huntsman said. "But it's another example of the establishment piling on. And it seems the more that the establishment piles on — [Elizabeth] Dole, McCain and all the rest — nobody cares. Nobody cares about this. I mean, none of the endorsements that Romney's picked up have been effective in terms of how the people respond, because the people are looking for a new generation of leadership. They're looking for a new approach to problem-solving in this country. And you can get all the Doles and all the McCains in the world — as Romney probably will. But in the end, nobody cares."
Romney is polling in the lead nationally, apparently having regained his footing on a wave of momentum toward the nomination. McCain’s endorsement accompanies Romney’s tight victory in the Iowa caucus vote on Tuesday, where he won by 8 votes, squeaking by Rick Santorum.
“Do we think we can get more than an 8-vote margin here in New Hampshire? I sure hope so. We’re going to try,” Romney said in opening remarks Wednesday.
--This post was updated at 4:10 p.m.