GOP governors see Mitt Romney as one of their own, but hesitate to endorse him

Just eight of the 29 Republican governors have endorsed Romney, and while he’s one of their own – a former state chief executive – there are good reasons to hold back, including the GOP’s divisive nominating campaign.

Chris Graythen/AP
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney poses with professional wrestler John Cena before the NASCAR Daytona 500 Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Sunday, Feb. 26.

Going into Tuesday’s critical primary elections in Arizona and Michigan, Mitt Romney is getting help from Republican governors.

On Sunday, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was the latest to endorse Romney, joining Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman.

"I think he's the man that can carry the day," Gov. Brewer said on NBC's "Meet The Press" Sunday. “Mitt is by far the person that can go in and win."

Still, just eight of the 29 Republican governors have endorsed Romney, and while he’s one of their own – a former state chief executive, even though he plays down his time as the then-moderate governor of liberal Massachusetts – there are good reasons to hold back.

If their state hasn’t yet held its primary election or caucuses, they might not want to get out ahead of their own electorate.

More serious for their party’s future, many of them are worried about the GOP’s divisive nominating campaign. And like a lot of Republican insiders and activists, they yearn for a candidate without Romney’s faults – his rich-guy persona, his odd rhetorical meanderings, and the shop-worn image of one who’s been running for the White House for six years.

"I think some people look at him as a CEO," Gov. McDonnell told reporters at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, according to the Los Angeles Times. "People right now want to have somebody that truly just feels their pain and empathizes with what they're going through in this horrible, horrible economy."

Of his enormous personal wealth – his foreign investment accounts, his initial reluctance to reveal his tax returns, his wife’s “couple of Cadillacs” – Romney says simply, “That’s just the way it is.”

“If people think there’s something wrong with being successful in America, then they better vote for the other guy because I’ve been extraordinarily successful and I want to use that success and that know-how to help the American people,” he said on Fox News Sunday.

Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore notes the difference between now and 2000, when Republican governors played a key role for George W. Bush, a fellow governor.

“Republican governors at that time were very much playing a major, muscular role in the delivery of their states to the nominee,” Gilmore, who is backing Romney this year, told Politico. “I don’t see as much of that now…. They’re trying to either pick the winner or make the winner, and if they’re not doing it, it’s because the environment is too uncertain.”

“They are cautiously tip-toeing around the matter that the rest of the party is consumed with,” writes Politico’s James Hohmann. “For an influential group that casts such a big shadow over the party, the governors have been remarkably reticent to play a role in picking a nominee.”

Not all of the fence-sitting Republican governors are waiting to eventually back their party’s nominee among the remaining contestants, Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage longs for a convention floor fight from which a new GOP champion goes forth to do battle with Barack Obama.

"The candidates in this primary have beat themselves up so badly it would be nice to have a fresh face that we all could say, Okay. The country deserves better than having people stand up and keep criticizing each other,” he said Saturday at the governors association meeting in Washington. "I would love to see a good old-fashioned convention and a dark horse come out and do it in the fall.”

Is that at all possible? Or could somebody else – say, an uncommitted governor or former governor like Indiana’s Mitch Daniels or Florida’s Jeb Bush – jump in before that?

“There are 22 contests where the filing deadlines to get on the ballot in states are still open,” notes Bob Schieffer, host of CBS’s Face the Nation. “Those states don't provide enough delegates for a late starter to get the nomination, BUT a late comer who got a big part of the delegates could probably stop any of the current candidates from wrapping up the nomination before the Republican convention.”

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