(from the Washington Post's "The Fix")
McCain-Romney Endorsement Contest Continues
Less than a week after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney announced that Sen. Jim Demint (R-S.C.) has endorsed him in the all-important state of South Carolina, Sen. John McCain will counter today by announcing that state House Speaker Bobby Harrell is backing his race for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination.
McCain and Harrell will be joined by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and state Attorney General Henry McMaster on a tour of the state today to tout the endorsement, making stops in Greenville (located in the Republican-rich Upstate), Charleston and Columbia.
In the 2000 campaign Harrell supported George W. Bush over McCain -- as did any number of South Carolina elected officials and activists who are supporting McCain this time around. The big endorsement still up for grabs in South Carolina is Gov. Mark Sanford (R). Sanford backed McCain in 2000 but has yet to pick sides in 2008.
The focus McCain has put on courting the political establishment in the Palmetto State shows how important he and his team believe the state will be in his path to the nomination. Seven years ago, South Carolina served as the tipping point for Bush; McCain came into the state with massive momentum following his win in New Hampshire, but he left it bruised, battered and all but out of money. McCain went on to win Michigan, but his campaign was effectively over.
As The Fix wrote yesterday, McCain and Romney are engaged in a full-scale battle for activists and elected officials in the early primary and caucus states. Does any of it matter? Marginally. Few people who don't practice politics full time are paying attention at this early stage, and most voters don't make their decisions based on which candidate has the most endorsements.
That said, if one candidate rolls up the vast majority of endorsements in a particular state (à la George W. Bush in 2000), it suggests a sense of inevitability that could well translates into real votes on primary day.
****************from yesterday's "The Fix"*************************
Romney, McCain Tout New Backers
In the escalating behind-the-scenes battle between Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), both men scored coups of a sort over the weekend.
Romney has landed Vin Weber, a former Minnesota Republican Congressman and Republican lobbyist with Clark & Weinstock, as an adviser to his presidential campaign, while McCain has secured the backing of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R).
Weber, who will serve as chairman of Romney's policy committee, was one of the most prominent backers of McCain's presidential bid in 2000. In the intervening years, Weber has morphed into an adviser for the Bush White House. Weber's role in the Romney campaign will mirror the position Robert Zoellick held in President Bush's race in 2000, a sort of "policy guru-in-chief," according to one Romney insider, who added, "Someone of his stature can and will make a very prominent contribution to an already formidable campaign team." It goes without saying that winning an endorsement from one of the pillars of McCain's support inside the Beltway seven years ago gives the Romney team a special thrill.
McCain, meanwhile, secured the backing of Pawlenty who is widely seen as one of the rising stars within the Republican Party and a potential vice presidential pick. Pawlenty will serve as a national co-chair for McCain "should he decide to run" (wink, wink), according to a release.
"Senator McCain has been a strong leader and a common sense conservative in the U.S. Senate and will continue to be in the White House," said Pawlenty of his decision to back McCain.
Pawlenty joins Govs. Haley Barbour (Barbour has said good things about McCain but has yet to endorse), Jon Huntsman, Jr. (Utah) on McCain's side for 2008 -- giving him a midwestern and western governor as backers. Securing the support of governors is important to McCain for both pragmatic and symbolic reasons. Governors can be a key connection to money people in their states as well as grassroots activists. Their endorsement also serves as a not-so-subtle dig against Romney who not only served as chief executive of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts but also chaired the Republican Governors Association in the 2006 cycle.
The one-upsmanship between McCain and Romney is a fascinating study in the bare-knuckled politics of the presidential nomination and bears watching throughout the year.