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Endorsements Reflect Upended GOP Presidential Race

While most of Bush's endorsements came early in the cycle, more than half of Rubio's have come in the last month. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images File Photo)

With only a couple months to go before voters begin weighing in on their choice for president, just fewer than half of the members of Congress have made their favorite candidates known in the presidential race.  

The presidential endorsement battle is one for institutional support, and Hillary Rodham Clinton is the clear leader. According to an analysis by CQ Roll Call, Clinton has the support of two-thirds of congressional Democrats, while fewer than a third of congressional Republicans have made their choice.  

Who's Lining Up Behind Who? Roll Call Endorsement Tracker Lynn Vavreck, a professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, has described endorsements a predictor of a candidate’s success and a signal of their viability.  

In an email to CQ Roll Call, Vavreck said, “The notion is that the people who understand what it takes to be a leader in government think that this person has the judgment and temperament to do the job and that they are a viable candidate, meaning they would be a good campaigner who could help their party beat the other side."  

On the Republican side, this year is a test to that notion. Both of the Republican front-runners, outsiders Donald Trump and Ben Carson who have bucked the political establishment , have received zero.  

Establishment candidates, such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, lead the large pack of candidates on the Republican side. Bush has almost 30 endorsements from members of Congress, including Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., who lent his support Friday, while Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is competing with Bush for the establishment GOP vote, has the second most.  “Gov. Bush and Sen. Rubio are two of the most credible and well-respected candidates so it’s not a surprise to see Republican leaders around the country backing their respective campaigns,” said Brian Walsh, a Washington, D.C.-based Republican consultant who is a partner at Rokk Solutions.  

But while many of Bush's endorsements came early in the cycle when he was perceived as the front-runner, seven of the 13 lawmakers who have endorsed Rubio, including three senators, have done so in the last month.

"As he increases in support in the general population, the Republican primary voters in this case, his support from elites is rising because they think he is capable and they think people like him," said Vavreck. "This doesn’t happen when Carson surges because elites don’t think he is electable in the general election despite the fact that Republican Primary voters are saying he is viable as a nominee."

Walsh said Rubio has been able to capitalize off of his recent debate performances which have impressed Republican voters, donors and, apparently, members of Congress, too.  

"He’s the youngest candidate in the race, and his whole belief in a new generation of leaders is exactly what I want to see done," Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., one of Rubio's recent endorsers, told CQ Roll Call. “I felt it was important to get out early and try to help out. I think this presidential race is extremely important."  

Like Smith, who was elected in 2013, many of the lawmakers who have endorsed Rubio are newer ones  who were elected since Rubio was in 2010.  

Smith said more than anything else, endorsements like his let him and his colleagues serve as surrogates for the campaign to promote its message. Except for the protests at the University of Missouri last week, Smith said during stops in 20 of the 30 counties in his southeastern Missouri district, all people wanted to talk about was the presidential race.  

Walsh said while Rubio's stock might be on the rise right now, Bush's family network might give him an edge or at least dissuade some lawmakers from getting involved in the race.  

“At the same time, no one should underestimate the enormous goodwill that the Bush family has with Republicans across the country which is why so many are backing his campaign as well and many others are genuinely torn between two great candidates,” Walsh added.  

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