After edging out U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for second in South Carolina behind businessman Donald Trump and former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., ending his campaign, U.S Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is reeling in some major Republican endorsements for his presidential bid with buzz growing that former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Fla., could be about to throw his support to the candidate.
Following Saturday’s South Carolina primary, the race now heads to Nevada where Republicans will caucus on Tuesday. Rubio scored a big endorsement in the Silver State on Sunday as U.S Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., endorsed his Senate colleague.
“Marco Rubio is the next generation of conservative leadership in this country,” Heller said. “I’ve become convinced that he’s the candidate capable of uniting conservatives, growing our party, and beating the Democrats in November. He understands what it takes to get our economy back on track and he understands how to keep us safe. And Marco understands Nevada, he grew up here. I am proud to offer my full support and look forward to campaigning with him in Nevada today.”
Other members of the Republican leadership are also falling behind Rubio as he appears to represent their most palatable alternative to Trump and Cruz. On Monday, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., who briefly ran for the Republican presidential nomination in the 2012 cycle, announced he was backing Rubio.
Romney, who was the Republican presidential nominee who came up short against President Barack Obama in 2012, could soon back Rubio. On Sunday, the Huffington Post reported Romney could soon endorse Rubio now that Bush is out of the race.
Appearing on CNN on Sunday morning, right after reports broke that Romney would back him, Rubio said he was not aware of the former GOP nominee about to offer an endorsement.
“There's a report this morning that Mitt Romney will endorse you this week,” Jake Tapper from CNN said. “What would an endorsement from Mr. Romney mean to you?”
“Well, that report is false,” Rubio said. “I have no reason to believe that he's anywhere near endorsing anyone. We would love to have his endorsement. We would love to have the help of everyone, because we have got to bring the Republican Party together. We're not going to win, we're not going to beat Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders if we're still divided in September and in October. So, it's important to nominate someone that can bring everyone together, ultimately. We have to be on the same team. And it's one of the reasons why I believe I will be the nominee, because I give us the best chance to unify. And, of course, bringing Governor Romney on board would be a part of that. We would love to have his endorsement, but there's nothing forthcoming. I don't know where those reports are coming from, but they're false.”
Romney remains popular with many Republicans and, when his name was thrown out as possible candidate in 2016, he led other GOP candidates in the polls. Back in 2012, Romney considered having Rubio as his running mate but went instead with U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.
If Romney backs Rubio before the Nevada caucus, there could be a major impact. Back in 2008, Romney crushed a crowded field in the Silver State, winning Nevada with 51 percent with U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, in distant second with 14 percent. Four years later, Romney won again with 50 percent followed by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., with 21 percent and Paul in third with 19 percent.
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