The 2012 endorsement battle is starting to heat up, with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney sprinting to an early advantage. Over the weekend, Romney landed the backing of two of the top GOP elected officials in New Hampshire: Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Rep. Charlie Bass.
But while these types of endorsements (known as “state-specific” on The Fix’s handy-dandy Endorsement Hierarchy) can help a candidate, they are rarely more than a single-day story.
Meanwhile, the bigger endorsements — the sort that can say something broader about a candidate and genuinely help him or her over the long haul — are, largely, still up for grabs.
Below, we look at six “symbollic” endorsements that could change the 2012 race, along with who might be able to win the endorsements.
* South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint
Who’s favored? Nobody. Romney got DeMint’s backing in 2008, but given DeMint’s focus on conservative purity in 2010 (and Romney’s refusal to repudiate the health care law he spearheaded as Massachusetts governor), it doesn’t appear Romney fits the bill this time. Also remember that Romney almost skipped a forum DeMint hosted two months ago; that wouldn’t happen if DeMint’s endorsement was winnable for the frontrunner.
* The Bush clan
We’re not sure where it would come from – George H.W. Bush? Dick Cheney? Jeb Bush? – but there is an opening out there for an endorsement from the Bush crowd. More than anything, such an endorsement would signal the blessing of the most powerful family in GOP politics and open avenues with Bush donors and bundlers that are currently closed off.
Who’s favored? It’s hard to see how this backing goes to anyone but Romney at this point – if there’s a Bush endorsement at all. And it should be noted that Jeb Bush Jr. is backing former Utah governor Jon Huntsman. Also, the Bush family generally doesn’t get along all that well with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who served as George W. Bush’s lieutenant governor.
* Mike Huckabee
The former Arkansas governor remains the Republican most admired by social conservatives and potentially even the most popular Republican among the activist wing of the party. Poll after poll shows Huckabee maintains significant goodwill from his 2008 campaign. Put simply: People trust Huckabee, which means this endorsement is a big one.
Who’s favored? Weirdly, Romney. Huckabee has been saying tons of things that are helpful to Romney, despite their rocky (to put it mildly) relationship during the 2008 campaign. And Huckabee is no fan of Perry. About the only other possibilities would seem to be former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and businessman Herman Cain, whom Huckabee notably defended in the early days of his sexual harassment scandal.
* Sarah Palin
While her standing in American politics and even within her own party has eroded in recent months, the former Alaska governor still can deliver a sizeable army of supporters that any candidate would be lucky to have. She delivers the tea party crowd as much as DeMint and the social conservative crowd as much as Huckabee. More than anything, though, she delivers the kind of outsider credentials that every candidate in the race wants.
Who’s favored? Palin’s history of backing long-shot outsiders suggests she would be open to backing someone like Herman (“Herb”) Cain. That endorsement makes all kinds of sense for Palin. At the same time, she has said nice things about Gingrich and was perhaps the key Perry backer in his 2010 primary against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas).
* Mitch Daniels
The Indiana governor’s endorsement send the same signal as one from the Bush clan – a sign of support from the establishment wing of the party. Daniels, though, may symbolize that ‘let’s get serious, people’ attitude even better than the Bush crew because he has actually been out there making a case about which direction the country should be headed — including arguing for Republicans to set aside differences on social issues. (Another outgoing governor – Mississippi’s Haley Barbour – is in the same camp, but is focusing on his work at the Republican-leaning outside group American Crossroads and seems unlikely to endorse.)
Who’s favored? Daniels hasn’t been an active surrogate in the past; he endorsed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008 but was much more focused on his own reelection bid that year. This time, though, he’s got more of a national profile and no reelection campaign to worry about. He has taken meetings with most of the major candidates, and could be a major player in this process. The question is whether he wants to be.
* Marco Rubio
The Florida senator’s influence in the Republican Party is growing by the day and his endorsement would be read as conveying the blessing of the younger generation within the GOP. With the luster having come off of Palin, Rubio’s endorsement is also the biggest “shiny new thing” endorsement of 2012 — with the accompanying hype likely to help boost any candidate who receives it.
Who’s favored? Rubio has said nice things about almost all of the candidates in the GOP presidential field so it’s hard to pick out one that he might favor. That said, Romney’s camp is thought to covet his backing, and if Rubio does have designs on being vice president (which he denies), Romney as the frontrunner is the most obvious choice. Conventional wisdom has it that Rubio will wait until just before the Florida primary in late January, if he endorses at all. That makes his backing even bigger, specifically if it can deliver his state (ala Charlie Crist backing McCain in 2008) to his choice candidate.