Updated 11:22 a.m. — Eric Cantor, the second-ranking House Republican, endorsed Mitt Romney for president on Sunday, saying he is the candidate best suited to handle the issue of the economy.
Cantor, the House Majority Leader, announced his support on "Meet the Press," just two days before the primary on Tuesday in Virginia.
"What I have seen is a very hard-fought primary. And we have seen now that the central issue about the campaign now is the economy," Cantor told moderator David Gregory. "I just think there's one candidate in the case who can do that, and it's Mitt Romney."
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor thrusts his support behind Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on NBC's Meet the Press.
Cantor is the highest-ranking Republian member of Congress to make an endorsement in the primary. Moreover, Cantor has emerged as a national political figurehead for conservatives on Capitol Hill; he's generally seen as the informal leader of the faction of anti-establishment conservatives to have been elected in 2010. To that end, he is one of three House Republicans considered the party's "Young Guns," along with Reps. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Paul Ryan (Wis.), neither of whom have endorsed in the presidential race.
Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told reporters traveling with Romney on Sunday that Cantor called the former Massachusetts governor on Wednesday to inform him of the endorsement.
The Virginia lawmaker's support adds to a collection of endorsements Romney has collected from elected officials. Eighty-one Republican members of Congress have voiced public support for Romney, according to Roll Call's count of endorsements. Just 11 members of Congress have endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, by comparison. Romney has additionally won endorsements from other national Republican figures like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Fehrnstrom suggested Cantor's support stems from an interest in riding Romney's coattails — coattails which, by implication, Fehrnstrom meant that Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum wouldn't have for Republicans downballot.
"I gotta believe in the back of his mind he’s also thinking about maintaining a Republican majority in the house and elected republicans are looking for someone who has coattails, not concrete shoes," the Romney adviser said of Cantor.
Some of the other members of the House Republican leadership team have made endorsements; the No. 3 member of the GOP, Conference Chairman and Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, had endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Republican Policy Committee Chairman and Georgia Rep. Tom Price has endorsed Newt Gingrich.
Two members of the House GOP leadership have endorsed Romney, including Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the Republican conference vice chairwoman, and Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, the chairman of the House Republican Leadership.
The top House Republican, Speaker John Boehner, has doggedly refused to make an endorsement in the Republican primary. A political spokesman for the speaker confirmed Saturday that Boehner won't endorse before the primary on Tuesday in his native Ohio, arguably the crown jewel of the Super Tuesday contests.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has also declined, to date, to make an endorsement in the Republican race.
Cantor's endorsement comes at a point in Romney's campaign at which he's railed against opponent Rick Santorum's extensive experience in Congress. Romney has made his lack of time spent in Washington a cornerstone of his campaign.
The former Massachusetts governor has also broken, though, from congressional Republicans at points throughout the campaign. Most notably, Romney came out in opposition to a deal GOP leaders on Capitol Hill had struck with President Obama to raise the nation's debt ceiling last August after maintaining his silence for much of the debate.