Romney and Bush in 2005 (Steven Senne/AP)
Mitt Romney has finally scored one of the most elusive endorsements in the Republican primary, winning the support of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
In a statement released by his office this morning, Bush, who had been urged to mount his own 2012 bid, announced his support for the former Massachusetts governor and urged other Republicans to coalesce behind his bid.
"Primary elections have been held in 34 states, and now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Gov. Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall," Bush said. "I am endorsing Mitt Romney for our party's nomination. We face huge challenges, 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."
Bush's support isn't surprising. His family is personally close to Romney and has voiced support for Romney's 2012 bid. His father, former President George H.W. Bush, informally endorsed Romney in December, calling him the "best choice" in the race. And last month, Bush's mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, recorded a robocall for Romney's campaign that was targeted at Ohio voters.
Yet Bush had declined to formally back a candidate in the race—in spite of rumors just after the South Carolina primary that he might come out in favor of Romney ahead of the Florida primary. He declined to do so—just as he did in 2008, when he backed John McCain well after his home state had held its primary.
Given Bush's popularity within the party, the Romney campaign hopes this will be a turning point for the ex-governor's 2012 bid. While Bush is not the first person to call for the long slog of the primary to come to an end, he is certainly one of the most influential, especially among conservatives who had long held out hopes that he would pursue his own White House bid.
The Bush endorsement will also help tamp down speculative chatter among Republican insiders about convention chaos in Tampa. Bush's name always appears on any list of potential GOP heavyweights who could be drafted into the nomination if the current candidates find themselves unable to get the required 1,144 delegates in a vote on the convention floor. Of course, Bush has resisted every entreaty to get him to run for the White House thus far and had made clear time and again that he could envision no scenario where he would be a candidate in 2012.