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Republican heavy hitters join Jeb Bush campaign in Virginia

Republican presidential candidate and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who has made several trips to Virginia in recent months, is shown here at a campaign stop in New Hampshire. (Jim Cole/AP)

Several pillars of the Virginia Republican establishment have signed on with the flailing presidential campaign of Jeb Bush.

Thomas F. Farrell II, CEO of utility giant Dominion Resources, and Richard Cullen, chairman of the influential law firm McGuire Woods, have endorsed the former Florida governor, the campaign will announce Wednesday.

Also on a new list of more than 60 supporters is Sen. John Watkins (R-Powhatan), a moderate who is retiring this year after more than three decades in the legislature.

“When the primary is over, there is only one candidate who is capable of defeating Hillary Clinton, and that is Jeb Bush,” Watkins said in a statement from the campaign.

Bush has struggled to gain footing in a crowded field dominated by celebrity billionaire Donald Trump. Both are among the 10 GOP candidates who have submitted signatures to have their name printed on Virginia’s March 1 primary ballot.

Former House majority leader Eric Cantor joined the campaign as a co-chair in August, but new to the list are his longtime chief of staff Kristi Way and his right hand within the state party, Linwood Cobb.

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Farrell and Cullen — each listed as simply “business leader” by the campaign — are powerful figures in the state and Richmond who can tap a wide base of support and donor network on behalf of Bush.

The announcement comes the day after Virginia Republicans of all stripes denounced Trump’s plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

“His remarks do not represent what the Republican Party stands for, and more importantly, they do not represent what America stands for,” said House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), who has not endorsed any of the presidential hopefuls. “We need a strong Republican president that will lead the fight to protect all Americans, not another president that defies the rule of law and ignores the Constitution.”

Party faithful are preparing to gather this weekend at the tony Omni Homestead resort in central Virginia for their annual retreat, known as the “Advance.”

The party has struggled to unite its moderate loyalists with hard-core conservatives — a rift that has helped cost it every statewide office. Some see GOP strategist Ed Gillespie as a candidate who can unite the factions as governor, while others favor former attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II, neither of whom have made 2016 endorsements.