Former President George H.W. Bush endorsed Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney today, urging the party to end a divisive primary and rally behind his candidacy.
“It’s time for people to all get behind this very good man,” Bush, 87, told reporters in Houston.
Bush’s backing capped a week in which Romney’s campaign sought to cement a sense of inevitability surrounding his candidacy. Aides to the former Massachusetts governor are working to build support before the April 3 Wisconsin primary.
That contest is the last chance in the coming weeks for Romney rival Rick Santorum, a former senator, to regain momentum for his campaign. Romney is favored to win the day’s other two primaries, in Maryland and Washington, D.C.
A series of elected officials, business leaders and party activists have announced their support of Romney in recent days, including U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a favorite of anti-tax Tea Party activists.
Before today, Bush had made public comments praising Romney while withholding an endorsement.
Sitting beside his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, in his Houston office, Bush cited the country song “The Gambler” saying Romney’s rivals should to “know when to fold ’em.”
“It’s time for the party to get behind Governor Romney,” he said.
Romney thanked the Bushes for their support, pointing to the long friendship between their two storied political families.
“Having your support means a great deal to me on a personal basis, a family basis, and also on a national basis,” said Romney, noting that his father, former Michigan Governor George Romney, was friendly with the Bushes.
Much of the Bush family has already thrown their support behind Romney. One of his sons, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, urged Republicans to unify behind Romney’s candidacy in a March 21 endorsement.
Barbara Bush had also formally backed Romney and recorded calls for voters voicing her support, played before March 6 primaries in Ohio and Vermont.
‘Most Important Election’
“This is the most important election I believe in my lifetime,” she said today. “I really think it’s most important and I know that George does too that we elect you president.”
The fresh round of public support for Romney comes as both Santorum and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich struggle to revive their candidacies. Gingrich said this week he scaled back his campaign, cutting staff and reducing his campaign travel, to focus on winning the nomination at the party’s convention in August.
Santorum faces declining polling numbers across the country, including in his home state of Pennsylvania, scheduled to vote on April 24.
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.