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The Des Moines Register officially endorsed Mitt Romney's bid for the Republican presidential nomination Saturday, handing the former Massachusetts governor an influential show of support ahead of January's Iowa caucuses.
In backing Romney, the paper's editorial board praised the candidate's "sobriety, wisdom and judgment" and said he offers the best qualities and experience of anyone in the Republican field.
"He stands out especially among candidates now in the top tier," the paper said of Romney in an endorsement published online Saturday. "Newt Gingrich is an undisciplined partisan who would alienate, not unite, if he reverts to mean-spirited attacks on display as House speaker. Ron Paul's libertarian ideology would lead to economic chaos and isolationism, neither of which this nation can afford."
Romney, the paper wrote, has an "ability to see the merits of tough issues from something other than a knee-jerk ideological perspective" suggesting Romney "would be willing to bridge the political divide in Washington."
"His record of ignoring partisan labels to pass important legislation when he was governor of Massachusetts suggests he is capable to making that happen," the Register wrote.
While Romney is sure to be thrilled by the endorsement, the paper's framing of its decision might not help his cause with some Republicans, who have questioned the ex-governor's conservative credentials.
The Register mentions Romney's "nuanced" positions on abortion and notes that he's defended a health care law he passed as governor of Massachusetts that bears more than a striking similarity to President Obama's health care legislation.
"Voters will have to decide for themselves whether such subtly nuanced statements express Romney's true beliefs or if he's trying to have it both ways," the Register wrote.
It's unclear if the paper's endorsement will be enough to help Romney's bid to do well in Iowa. After months of laying low in the state, Romney has only recently started to invest serious time and money into doing well in the Jan. 3rd caucuses.
While Gingrich has led most polls in the state in recent weeks, there are hints Romney may be gaining some momentum. A Rasmussen Reports survey released Thursday found Romney leading Gingrich by 3 points—a result within the poll's margin of error.
But Romney still faces an uphill battle when it comes to wooing the state's base of evangelical voters, an influential voting bloc that has been openly skeptical about Romney's views on social issues.
The paper hasn't always backed the eventual winner of the Iowa caucuses. Four years ago, the Register overlooked Romney and Mike Huckabee, who were in a fierce competition for Republican support in the state, and instead backed the party's eventual nominee John McCain, who had barely campaigned in the state.
The Register is the second major early state newspaper endorsement to come out ahead of next month's voting. Last month, the New Hampshire Union Leader backed Gingrich in that state's GOP primary.
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