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Members Oddly Shy in 2012 Endorsement Race

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney (above) have racked up fewer Congressional endorsements than the 2008 GOP contenders had at this point last cycle. Romney leads the pack with 42 endorsements from Members of Congress.

“Members who backed [Texas Gov.] Rick Perry are now in a difficult position of defending him and no one wants to repeat that kind of mistake,” said one GOP operative who is not affiliated with a candidate.

Once considered a frontrunner, Perry has seen his star fade as he has continued to make embarrassing blunders during primary debates.

“I think we just need to let the whole primary process play out, so I’m not planning on endorsing anybody anytime soon,” explained Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.), who was elected last year on the strength of tea party support. “There’s still a lot of information I need to see play out here. We still have debates, we’ll see how some of the voters respond; there’s no reason to jump to a conclusion right now.”

Recent national polls show former Speaker Newt Gingrich joining Romney in the lead, even though the Georgian’s campaign appeared on the verge of collapse in June following high-profile defections of his campaign staff.

Georgia businessman Herman Cain still polls near the top, but his trend is negative in the wake of sexual harassment charges and foreign policy gaffes. Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) is also surging in some of the latest surveys, including polls gauging support in the early-voting caucus and primary states.

The fluid race has seen Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) poll well early in the summer only to drop off. Perry also tanked after entering the race in mid-August as the candidate to beat. The RealClearPolitics.com average of all national polls issued Nov. 8 to Nov. 15 showed Romney with 22 percent, Gingrich with 21.6 percent, Cain with 18.6 percent, Perry with 8.2 percent, Paul with 7.8 percent and Bachmann with 5.4 percent.

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), one of many high-profile Republicans to consider and then decide against running for president in 2012, said the failure of the contest to solidify, or for a consensus candidate to emerge, has added to Members’ uncertainty about whether to endorse.

“I want to have somebody who’s a principled conservative and who can articulate our vision effectively. But I also want to make sure that we’ve got somebody who can win in ’12,” said Thune, who was active for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008.

House Republicans have been more willing than their Senate counterparts in the endorsement sweepstakes, but only slightly. Lawmakers who usually relish being intimately involved in a presidential campaign are staying mum. House Rules Chairman David Dreier was an influential backer of George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and he was an early, active supporter of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2008.

But the California Republican is neutral in this contest. In a brief interview last week, Dreier said his previous involvement in presidential primaries occurred “back when the endorsement of a Member of the United States Congress was a positive.”

But announcements of support could begin to accelerate in December. McCain said he’s been taking more calls from fellow Members asking advice on getting involved in the primary, and Blunt said he’s begun to see movement in his bid to gather Capitol Hill support for Romney. But the Missourian noted that his whip operation has virtually no competition. Sen. John Hoeven (N.D.) endorsed Romney on Friday.

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