This post has been updated.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) endorsed Mitt Romney for president on Sunday, becoming the first member of GOP leadership to back the GOP frontrunner.
Cantor announced his endorsement two days before his home state, Virginia, is set to hold its primary. Romney is a strong favorite in the state, because Ron Paul is the only other candidate who managed to qualify for the ballot.
“I cast my vote already in Virginia for Mitt Romney and I’m here today to tell you that I’m endorsing Mitt Romney in his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States,” Cantor said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday morning.
“Who’s going to best be able to lead this economy back to a growth mode, create jobs so people can feel better about the future,” he added. “And I just think there’s one candidate in the race who can do that, and that’s Mitt Romney.”
Cantor personally called Romney last week, the day after the former Massachusetts governor won the Michigan and Arizona primaries, to say he would publicly support Romney, said Eric Fehrnstrom, a Romney senior adviser told reporters traveling aboard the candidate’s plane Sunday morning en route to Atlanta.
“Republicans want coat tails, not concrete shoes,” Fehrnstrom said. “Rick Santorum is a concrete shoe for Republicans who are running for the Senate or for the House. . .He didn’t say it, but I’ve got to believe that in the back of Eric Cantor’s mind is maintaining the Republican majority in the House. I think it’s easier to do that with Mitt Romney at the top of the ticket as our strongest possible jobs candidate.
“ If you nominate Rick Santorum, you’re putting forward a candidate who has no experience in the real world economy and who is a lifetime legislator who has spent his career in and around Washington,” Fehrnstrom said. “We think that’s the wrong contrast to put up against President Obama in the fall.”
Cantor, who is a favorite of conservatives, has also been bandied about as a potential vice presidential nominee.
An NBC News/Marist College poll released Sunday showed Romney leading Paul 69 percent to 26 percent in the Virginia primary.
Staff writer Philip Rucker contributed to this report.