Opinion Brief

McCain endorses Romney: Will it backfire?

The 2008 GOP presidential nominee backs his former rival. But the maverick's support could actually hurt Mitt with wary conservatives

Only hours after Mitt Romney finished the Iowa caucuses in a virtual tie with surging social conservative Rick Santorum, the former Massachusetts governor hopped a plane to New Hampshire, where, in a joint appearance, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) endorsed him. "I am really here for one reason and one reason only," the 2008 GOP nominee said in advance of New Hampshire's January 10 primary, "and that is to make sure that we make Mitt Romney the next president of the United States of America." But McCain, who bested Romney in 2008, is considered too moderate to sway the same conservatives Romney has struggled to attract. Is McCain's endorsement counterproductive?

Yes. This will tick off conservatives: McCain's endorsement "has come at the worst possible time for Romney," says Tony Campbell at The Moderate Voice. After tying in Iowa with a staunch conservative like Santorum, the last thing Romney needs is to alienate the Republican base even more. The endorsement of a moderate like McCain will likely do just that — and set up a marathon battle against Santorum "for the soul of the Republican Party." "Romney's ceiling is John McCain"

C'mon. This is good news for Mitt: McCain was once Romney's fiercest rival, and his endorsement this early in the 2012 race is a testament to the strength of Mitt's performance in Iowa, says Felicia Sonmez at The Washington Post. An endorsement from "the GOP's 2008 standard-bearer" is also a sign that the party establishment is uniting behind the former Massachusetts governor. That's good news, as this rapid show of support from GOP leaders could stave off "an extended (and potentially damaging) primary fight.""Report: McCain to endorse Romney in New Hampshire on Wednesday"

But how will it affect Huntsman? Sure, McCain "symbolizes much of what the GOP base doesn't want in its 2012 nominee," says Emily Schultheis at Politico. And it remains to be seen whether this endorsement helps or hurts Mitt. But either way, the biggest loser in this scenario is Jon Huntsman. The former Utah governor has all his eggs in New Hampshire, campaigning there as a "McCain-style maverick," and staking "his whole bid on the state that made McCain a national figure." This is a real "blow" to Huntsman — he's the one who really needs a New Hampshire boost."McCain to endorse Romney tomorrow"

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