Ex-President George H.W. Bush to Back Romney, Campaign Says

Mitt Romney, the front-runner in the Republican presidential contest, will receive the backing of former President George H.W. Bush tomorrow, Romney’s campaign announced today.

Bush’s endorsement is part of an accelerating effort by Romney and his allies to have top Republicans unite behind him as part of persuading his rivals for the nomination to end their candidacies.

A series of elected officials, business leaders and party activists have endorsed Romney in the past week, including one of Bush’s sons, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Former first lady Barbara Bush has also formally backed Romney and recorded calls for voters voicing her support played before March 6 primaries in Ohio and Vermont.

Another of the elder Bush’s sons, former President George W. Bush, has yet to endorse in the Republican race.

The elder Bush, 87, has made public comments praising Romney while withholding an actual endorsement. He will provide it tomorrow afternoon at his office in Houston, according to Romney’s campaign.

Wisconsin Focus

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, Romney’s main challenger, has rebuffed the calls to end his campaign and was in Wisconsin today seeking support in the state’s April 3 primary.

Santorum is seeking a strong showing in Wisconsin as Romney is heavily favored to win the day’s other two primaries, in Maryland and Washington, D.C. Santorum isn’t on the Washington ballot. The next round of ballots will be cast April 24 in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and Delaware -- states where Romney is favored -- and in Pennsylvania, which Santorum represented in the House and Senate.

A poll released today shows a close race in Pennsylvania, where a Santorum loss would increase the pressure on him to withdraw. In the survey by Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Santorum barely leads Romney among registered Republicans in the state, 30 percent to 28 percent. Representative Ron Paul of Texas had 9 percent and former U.S. House Newt Gingrich 6 percent.

In a comparable poll in February, Santorum was ahead of Romney by 29 percentage points. The latest poll was conducted March 20-25 and has an error margin of plus-or-minus 4.2 points.

Paul and Gingrich each said this week they intend to remain in the race. Gingrich is cutting campaign staff and scaling back his schedule amid a shortage of funds for his candidacy.

“We’re staying in, that’s exactly why we’re downsizing” Gingrich said today on WTOP, a Washington radio station. “We’re doing the appropriate things to be able to campaign.”

With 1,144 convention delegates needed for the nomination, Romney leads with 568, according to an Associated Press tally. Santorum has 273, Gingrich 135 and Paul 50.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Lerer in Washington at llerer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net

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