Three Republican senators and nine House members have endorsements Sen. Marco Rubio in the 48 hours since former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush exited the presidential race following a disappointing performance in Saturday's South Carolina primary.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, who had supported Bush, told reporters on Monday he plans to back Rubio, bringing the Florida Republican's congressional endorsement total to 54, more than double any other GOP candidate.
"They didn't have to reach out, cause I was going to do it anyway, but they did reach out," Hatch said of Rubio's campaign after Bush exited. "I really thought Jeb Bush was the most qualified person in the race, but I also was very close to Marco Rubio."
Hatch said he would not be calling for Ohio Gov. John Kasich to exit the race, but he did indicate Republicans need to rally behind someone to stop businessman Donald Trump. "Sooner or later, they're going to have to coalesce behind one of them. Hopefully in my eyes it'll be Rubio," Hatch said.
Indiana Sen. Dan Coats also announced his endorsement for Rubio on Monday. "We need to turn our focus to who gives us the best chance of winning in the fall, and that needs to be somebody that can not only unite our party, but can reach out and appeal to independents and maybe disaffected Democrats," Coats said.
Endorsements are widely considered a measure of the support a candidate receives from the party's elite, a mantle that Rubio seems to have inherited with Bush's departure. But in a year when an anti-establishment message is resonating with angry voters, it's unclear whether endorsements will translate into votes.
South Florida GOP Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart also endorsed Rubio at a news conference Monday afternoon in Coral Gables, Fla. The group of prominent Cuban-American House members was joined by former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart in making the endorsement.
The Rubio campaign's announcement Sunday of the planned endorsements was the first sign that congressional Floridians who have backed Bush could quickly unify behind Rubio's candidacy, despite bad blood on the campaign trail.
While Ros-Lehtinen had backed Bush, who managed her first House campaign, Rubio was a former intern .
Florida Republican Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Jeff Miller, who had initially supported Bush, also announced endorsements of Rubio on Monday.
"America needs a president who will take on the status quo, establishment and entrenched interests that are standing in the way of a better future for our people, and Marco will be that kind of president," Miller, chairman of the House Veteran Affairs Committee, said in a statement.
In addition to the Florida representatives, Rubio earned the endorsements of Nevada Republicans Sen. Dean Heller and Reps. Mark Amodei and Cresent Hardy ahead of Tuesday's Republican caucuses there. Amodei plans to campaign for Rubio. Two other House Republicans, Erik Paulsen of Minnesota and Rodney Davis of Illinois, added their endorsements Monday.
Rubio's campaign circulated a memo Sunday expressing the view that the Republican nominating contest is now down to Rubio, fellow GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and businessman Donald Trump.
"As the field consolidates, polls have shown that Marco benefits the most. We have always been the candidate with the most room to grow, unlike Donald Trump and Ted Cruz," wrote Rubio campaign manager Terry Sullivan. "He is consistently the second choice of voters who support other candidates and has the highest favorability of anyone in the race."
Cruz received an endorsement Monday from a fellow Texas Republican, Rep. Roger Williams, but Williams was criticized for announcing his choice on his official House email. Trump has received no congressional endorsements.
Donald Trump won big in South Carolina with 33 percent of the vote. Though Rubio and Cruz tied for second with 22 percent, Rubio had about 1,100 more votes.
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report. Contact Lesniewski at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @nielslesniewski. Correction 9:12 p.m. A previous version of this story misspelled Rep. Erik Paulsen's name
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