Conservative resistance to Republican Mitt Romney appears to be giving way as a top rival indicated he would endorse the former Bay State governor if he wins the GOP nod -- and others on the right embraced the idea he would mount the strongest challenge to President Obama.
"I think the consensus is that he is the best candidate to beat President Obama," said Becky Beach, an influential Iowa fundraiser who was prepared to back Sarah Palin until the former Alaskan governor bowed out this month.
Beach said she will throw her money-raising clout behind the candidate who can beat Obama, and she's now convinced Romney is that guy.
"People have seen some lesser-tier candidates rocket up in the polls and implode twice as fast, and his constant steadfast strategy will bode well for him," Beach said.
Even Texas Gov. and Tea Party favorite Rick Perry's camp -- still locked in a fierce nomination battle with Romney -- admitted yesterday they would back him if he wins the GOP nomination.
"The governor has said he will support the Republican nominee," said spokesman Robert Black when asked whether Perry would support Romney in the general election.
Romney, who officially entered New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary yesterday, picked up the coveted endorsement of another prominent conservative, former Granite State Gov. John H. Sununu.
Romney has remained a top tier candidate over the summer and throughout the fall, outlasting Perry's meteoric rise in August and former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain's recent surge. Cain recently told the Herald he is "loving the love," on the campaign trail, but Republican activists said Romney, who couldn't seem to get any respect from the party's conservative base earlier this year, is starting to feel the love, too.
"There's a whole group of Republicans, especially fundraisers, where there's a tradition of looking for the next guy, but now everyone is in," said national GOP committeeman Steve Duprey. He noted that potential candidates such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Palin have opted to stay out of the race, and that could prompt Republicans to head Romney's way.
"You will start to see some movement," he said.
Romney already has picked up Christie's endorsement. Trey Grayson, director of Harvard University's Kennedy Institute of Politics and a former Republican Secretary of State in Kentucky, said that list is likely to grow as the Republican Party establishment coalesces around Romney.
"I do think he's going to be the nominee, and that's not something that was clear at the beginning of this contest," Grayson said.
But Romney's rivals said he still has several hurdles to clear -- including the derisively termed Romneycare, the Massachusetts health care legislation he signed into law that the president has said is a blueprint for Obamacare.
"Gov. Romney has taken full credit for Romneycare. He said it was good for his state," Black said. "I think Mitt Romney's biggest problem is Mitt Romney. He won't own his own record."
And even his own New Hampshire strategist admits that the Granite State can be fickle.
"Inevitability only works if you win," said Tom Rath, who also served as an adviser to George W. Bush's campaign. "This is a state that waits till the end. ... People up here always reserve the right to change their mind, and they frequently do."
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