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The Perry vs. Romney endorsement battle

Just hours before last week's Republican presidential debate, Rick Perry's campaign announced that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was supporting Perry.

Also last week, Mitt Romney rolled out endorsements of his own -- from California Congressman Darrell Issa and Indiana Congressman Todd Rokita.

When the lights shut off on the debate stages, and all the town hall folding chairs are packed away, there's another campaign that continues, largely hidden from public view, over dinners and long-distance phone calls: the fight for top-tier endorsements.

As they battle to win the support of undecided primary voters, Romney and Perry both have used national networks built over the last decade to build formidable lists of governors, members of Congress, and local lawmakers who have joined their team.

And a recent pattern has emerged, though with some exceptions: Perry's endorsements are coming from some sitting governors who are considered rising stars in the party, while Romney's are coming from sitting members of Congress.

Gov power
Perry, the longest serving governor in Texas history and a two-time chairman of the Republican Governors Association, can boast the support of two other fellow state execs besides Brownback: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, both of whom are minorities and rising stars in the GOP.

It was during his RGA leadership that Perry solidified his reputation as a formidable fundraiser whose cash-courting helped Republicans regain majority control of the nation's statehouses. The RGA raised over $217 million between 2006 (the time Perry took on an active role there) and 2011 (when he left the RGA chairmanship to pursue the presidency).

"The governors who experienced Gov. Perry's tenure at the RGA, the folks that he helped in some cases recruit and in some cases elect, know that he was in it for them and for the party, and not just for self-interest or self-aggrandizement," said Ray Sullivan, Perry's campaign communications director and his former gubernatorial chief of staff.

That's in contrast, he said, to past chairmen including Romney, whose tenure at the helm of the RGA Sullivan described as "insular and self-centered" compared with Perry's.

The former Massachusetts governor's win-loss record at the helm of the RGA also was far less boastworthy than Perry's despite his strength as a fundraiser. That record loomed large the last time Romney ran for president, when only three of the nation's 22 Republican governors backed his primary effort.

Romney's Capitol Hill support
But while Perry bests Romney on his number of high-profile gubernatorial backers, Romney has the lead when it comes to his base of congressional support.

To date, his campaign has announced the endorsements of 15 sitting representatives, three U.S. senators, and two sitting governors -- Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman

(Perry, by comparison, has a total of at least nine backers on Capitol Hill so far.)

That includes several endorsers from Romney's '08 campaign who have returned to the fold, such as California Congressman Buck McKeon and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.
 
Romney's national political action committee, Free and Strong America, also gave tens of thousands of dollars to dozens of Republican candidates during the midterm election cycle, and Romney campaigned for them as well. Several of those who received max contributions -- Reps. Joe Heck of Nevada and Jason Chaffetz of Utah, for example -- are backing Romney.

"Gov. Romney was proud to support a number of fiscally conservative candidates in the 2010 election cycle," campaign spokesman Ryan Williams explained. "It's always good to go to the states to meet people and help them get elected and grow those relationships."

But a personal relationship and healthy donation from Free And Strong America does not guarantee an endorsement for Romney. In 2010, the PAC gave a maximum contribution to Texas Congressman Pete Sessions, who is now a strong backer of his home state governor. Michele Bachmann also accepted money from Free And Strong America, as did Perry himself.
 
Political insiders say lawmaker endorsements rarely earn candidates primary votes directly, but do serve as important signals to activists and potential donors.

For Romney, endorsements by conservatives like Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake help shore up the candidate's conservative bonafides, often in question by elements of that movement.

For Perry, endorsements from Republican establishment figures like Sessions (who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee) and fellow Texan Jeb Hensarling (the fourth-ranking house Republican) prove that Perry's anti-Washington message does not mean he will lack support there.

As for the other GOP presidential candidates, the dearth of such backing can be a red flag. Michele Bachmann racked up local political endorsements in Iowa, but the lack of support from any of her congressional colleagues is seen by some as a sign of her limited national appeal.

Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, and Rick Santorum have likewise struggled to attract support from more than a handful of other national Republican figures.

While many endorsements at this stage are done by rote -- a press release and a handshake photo-op before everyone returns to their day jobs -- others present the possibility for greater value.

For example, the Romney campaign believes that former presidential candidate (and former Minnesota Gov.) Tim Pawlenty, who endorsed Romney earlier this month and became a national co-chair of his campaign, falls into the latter category. Since joining team Romney, Pawlenty has been assiduously courting his network of supporters to now support Romney as well.

"Pawlenty has done a fantastic job of reaching out to people," said Williams, the Romney spokesman. "He's been fully invested in this campaign since Day One."

Perry's backers have also been major presences -- as both media surrogates and behind-the-scenes advocates. Both Jindal and Brownback took a turn touting their candidate's performance to reporters in the "spin room" after debates in Tampa and Orlando, as did Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon and New Hampshire Deputy House Speaker Pam Tucker.

Jindal also recently penned an email fundraising solicitation for the Texas governor.

And Perry's team notes that after just six weeks in the race, their endorsement list is already competitive with Romney's.

"We're very pleased with where we are from an endorsement standpoint, Sullivan said. "Our endorsers are active, engaged and enthusiastic. And we hope, obviously, to have more coming down the road."