R.I. - Republican campaign dropout Mitt Romney agreed Thursday to endorse
Sen. John McCain for the party's presidential nomination and ask his national
convention delegates to swing behind the likely nominee, according to officials
familiar with the decision.
Romney collected 280 delegates during his run through the early primaries and
caucuses, enough to move McCain close to the total of 1,191 needed to clinch the
nomination a full nine months before the November general election.
The officials who disclosed Romney's plans did so on condition of anonymity
to avoid pre-empting a formal announcement later in the day. McCain was
campaigning in Vermont and Rhode Island, and added a flight to Boston to appear
with Romney to accept the endorsement at his waterfront campaign headquarters.
McCain effectively sealed the nomination last week when Romney withdrew from
the race; only former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and libertarian-leaning Texas
Rep. Ron Paul remain. Both lag McCain in delegates to the GOP's nominating
convention this summer.
Romney's nod of support capped a bitter yearlong rivalry between the two men
over the party's nomination. Romney criticized McCain in television ads in New
Hampshire, and both candidates mixed it up almost daily during campaign events
and debates. Neither is especially fond of the other.
Over the past year, Romney cast McCain as outside of the GOP's conservative
mainstream and a Washington insider who contributed to the problems plaguing a
broken system. McCain, in turn, argued that Romney's equivocations and reversals
on several issues indicated a willingness to change his positions to fit his
The clash effectively ended on Feb. 5, when McCain won a string of big-state
primaries from coast to coast.
Officials said the former Massachusetts governor made his decision to back
McCain earlier in the day, citing a desire to help the Arizona senator wrap up
the nomination before too much more time passed and while Democrats still did
not have a nominee.
McCain is on a steady march toward amassing the 1,191 delegates he needs, but
Huckabee has proven an unexpectedly durable challenger. With a strong appeal to
evangelical conservatives, Huckabee defeated McCain in two out of three states
that chose delegates last weekend, and ran a far stronger race than expected
before losing the Virginia primary on Tuesday.
The senator began the day with 843 delegates, to 242 for Huckabee. Officials
say Romney can ask his delegates to support McCain to the extent permitted by
state law and party rules.
In the next round of voting, Louisiana holds a state convention Saturday in
which caucus-goers will help decide how 44 of the state's 47 national convention
delegates are split. At stake Tuesday in Wisconsin's primary are 40 GOP
A former Massachusetts governor, Romney suspended his candidacy last week
after it became apparent that toppling McCain would be near impossible to gain
the delegates needed to defeat McCain.
In a speech before conservative activists in Washington, D.C., Romney
acknowledged the difficulty in overtaking McCain. "I must now stand aside, for
our party and our country," he said at the time, adding that doing otherwise
would increase the chances that Democrats would reclaim the White House.
At the time, Romney did not offer an endorsement, and McCain said he did
not seek one when the two spoke by telephone.
Romney was the only one of McCain's main primary opponents who had resisted
lining up behind the nominee in waiting; Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson both
have endorsed him.