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In Universe of Endorsements, Handful Are Coveted Most

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

In the great GOP scramble to win the nod to challenge President Barack Obama, there are a handful of coveted endorsements any of the contenders would probably be thrilled to get.

Some people endorse just to get their names in the paper. Some candidates collect endorsements to demonstrate strength in numbers, others to showcase tea party credentials.

As he was among the 2008 field, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is again the dominant candidate when it comes to Member support on Capitol Hill, leading his main rival, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, 57 to 8. (Texas Gov. Rick Perry is in second place, with 14 Hill backers.)

Here’s a look at some of the prominent Republicans who have stayed out of the primary fight and how coveted each person’s backing might be in the lead-up to the first nominating contests.

Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.)

The top two Republicans on Capitol Hill are staying neutral, at least for now. That will make their jobs easier once the party settles on the nominee, who will then become the de facto head of the Republican Party.

Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) and Rep. Steve King (Iowa)

These two conservative Republicans from critical early nominating states have withheld endorsements this time around. Their respective blessings would mean a lot to any of the contenders, and that’s one reason Gingrich name-dropped King during the final Iowa debate. DeMint, who supported Romney in 2008, has left open the possibility he will back someone. King, one of Rep. Michele Bachmann’s close friends, scrapped his summer plan to endorse someone after Labor Day. But it’s not too late. King waited until a few weeks before the caucuses four years ago and threw his support behind former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.).

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee

The winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses made clear earlier this year he is more interested in his television career than running for president. But he isn’t planning on endorsing anyone before Iowans head to their local precincts Jan. 3. Should Huckabee reverse that pledge, his backing could be a game-changer in the Hawkeye State.

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.)

The 2008 presidential nominee isn’t D.C.’s favorite Republican, though he could play kingmaker and be influential in the process, especially in New Hampshire. But the candidates shouldn’t hold their breath. McCain recently told the Hill newspaper it could be “several months” before he gets involved.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin

McCain’s 2008 running mate isn’t done with politics, even though she opted against her own bid. Palin will remain one of the most prominent voices in the GOP, and her endorsement at the very least would generate more headlines for the lucky contender than the backing from any other Republican. Palin said over the weekend that she would not endorse anyone “with the field as it stands.”

Herman Cain

The one-time national frontrunner, toppled by scandal, told his fans he would definitely endorse a candidate even though he was suspending his campaign. Throughout the race, he seemed to have the most in common with Gingrich, who appointed him to his first major political gig in the 1990s. The men both hail from Georgia and got along well during debates this year. But Cain’s team squashed rumors that a Gingrich endorsement was forthcoming, and he’s been in radio silence ever since.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.)

Given that Lieberman is retiring, Democrats expect he may cause some mischief before the election. After all, he endorsed and campaigned for McCain and spoke at the Republican National Convention four years ago. This time around, Lieberman said he’ll wait to get involved in the presidential race but didn’t sound like someone who was preparing to endorse Obama. “It’s possible I won’t endorse anybody. But if I do, I’ll do it as the independent I was elected for this last term,” he told reporters this month.

Donald Trump

An endorsement from the reality TV star could go into the “thanks, but no thanks” category that serves more to delight Democrats than bring in many voters (See “O’Donnell, Christine”), but in an election cycle this unpredictable, anything is possible. Several of the candidates courted the Donald during visits to Manhattan, and a few had RSVP’d for his canceled debate. But it’s unclear whether Trump will bestow his blessing on a hopeful — he has even left open the possibility he’d run himself as an independent.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.)

Should she falter in her bid to win the Iowa caucuses, Bachmann will likely be down but not out. She’ll stick in the race almost certainly through South Carolina’s Jan. 21 primary and potentially through the convention to be able to lend some of her tea party credibility and support among conservative women to the eventual nominee.

Rep. Ron Paul (Texas)

Paul said at the final debate before Iowa’s caucuses that any one of the candidates could defeat Obama. But if he does not emerge from the nominating process victorious, will the anti-war libertarian endorse any of his rivals? Not likely. With tea party strength, an ability to attract young voters and a national fan base, Paul is the most likely candidate to mount a third-party battle against Obama and the GOP nominee in the fall.

The Bush Family

Former President George W. Bush will be laying low until there is a nominee, and then Republicans will need to wrestle with how prominent of a role they give Bush at the Tampa convention in August. Romney met recently with President George H.W. Bush, but his aides tamped down any expectations that an endorsement was forthcoming. A big question mark is whether someone in the field would get the blessing of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a popular party figure who could always run in 2016.

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