Mitt Romney’s decisive win in Tuesday’s Illinois primary did not deal that elusive knockout blow to his fellow GOP challengers, but it did earn him the endorsement of influential Republican Jeb Bush.
Bush — the former Florida governor, brother of former president George W. Bush, and son of former president George H.W. Bush — urged his party to rally behind Romney on Wednesday.
“Primary elections have been held in 34 states, and now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall,” Bush said in a written statement. “I am endorsing Mitt Romney for our party’s nomination.”
Bush was an early rumored candidate for president but decided not to run. He had withheld his endorsement and been critical of the Republican field in general.
“I used to be a conservative, and I watch these debates and I’m wondering, I don’t think I’ve changed, but it’s a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people’s fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective,” Bush said in Dallas last month, “and that’s kind of where we are.”
After Romney posted a double-digit victory in Illinois Tuesday, Bush joined his father in backing the former Massachusetts governor. Romney now claims 563 delegates, according to the Associated Press, almost half the total needed to secure the nomination and 300 more than his closest rival, Rick Santorum.
Romney has also lapped his rivals in earning endorsements from prominent Republicans, including Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, former governor Tim Pawlenty, who dropped out of the GOP race for president last summer, former governor Jon Huntsman, who quit the race earlier this year, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia. Bush’s endorsement is one of the most treasured of remaining uncommitted Republicans and could signal an accelerated effort of the party to coalesce around Romney.
“We face huge challenges,” Bush said in Wednesday’s statement, “and we need a leader who understands the economy, recognizes more government regulation is not the answer, believes in entrepreneurial capitalism and works to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to succeed.”