Rubio, Christie Endorsements of Romney Contrast Sharply

Rubio, Christie Endorsements of Romney Contrast Sharply

By Scott Conroy - March 30, 2012

When Chris Christie endorsed Mitt Romney hours before a Republican presidential debate in October, the forcefulness with which the New Jersey governor offered his support to the Republican front-runner literally brought smiles to the faces of the Romney aides who had gathered for the announcement.

"I want to support Gov. Romney because I believe he's the best person to be able to articulate Republican values and defeat Barack Obama in November 2012," Christie said with the candidate at his side and in front of dozens of cameras and reporters.

Christie then argued emphatically that Romney's Massachusetts health care plan was different from the one Obama enacted nationally, and fired a shot across the bow of Rick Perry, who at the time was seen as Romney's chief competitor for the nomination.

It was clear immediately that in winning Christie's support, Romney had received not just the backing on paper of one of the GOP's biggest stars, but that he had earned his passion, too.

On Wednesday night, Romney netted the endorsement of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who had been one of the few unaligned national Republican figures with clout comparable to Christie’s on the campaign trail.

But there was no pomp and circumstance for the 40-year-old freshman senator's announcement, which he made not with Romney by his side but via satellite on Sean Hannity's Fox News show.

Before making it official, Rubio explained the timing of his endorsement -- nearly two months after his home state held its primary -- by noting his discomfort with suggestions by Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum that their respective paths to the nomination depend on a contested convention in Tampa, something Rubio called "a recipe for disaster."

Instead of following in Christie's footsteps by immediately embracing the role of attack dog, Rubio said that all of the Republican candidates "have a lot to be proud of" and he acknowledged that he was putting skin into the game at a time when it is "increasingly clear" that Romney will become the party's standard-bearer in November.

"I am going to endorse Mitt Romney, and the reason why is not only because he's going to be the Republican nominee, but he offers, at this point, such a stark contrast to the president's record," Rubio said.

The rising GOP star mentioned that Romney had been "successful in the private sector" and that he would "govern as a conservative," but the TV appearance left uncertainty as to how enthusiastically Rubio was getting behind the former Massachusetts governor.

Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said anyone questioning the senator's subdued declaration of support was reading too much into it.

"He endorsed Romney and thinks he'll be a huge improvement over President Obama," Conant said.

He also said he expects the Tea Party favorite to be an active Romney surrogate but that nothing had yet been scheduled on that front.

Rubio's enthusiasm level had not kicked into a higher gear during an interview Thursday with The Daily Caller's Matt Lewis. He told Lewis he didn't think that his endorsement would undermine his own conservative credentials "in any way," but he was decidedly off-message in his new role when he seemed to lament the dearth of choices in the Republican field.

"There are a lot of other people out there that some of us wish had run for president, but they didn't," he said. "I think Mitt Romney would be a fine president, and he'd be way better than the guy who's there right now."

In a separate interview with Newsmax, Rubio reiterated that Santorum’s and Gingrich's convention strategies were the "turning point" in his decision to endorse -- and not, by implication, anything that Romney had done. He then praised the front-runner with some notable qualifiers:

"I just think that he's head and shoulders above what we have right now in the White House. He is certainly more conservative than Barack Obama, which of course is not a very high standard, but I think he's significantly more. He will govern as a conservative president."

Christie and Rubio are both frequently mentioned in early vice-presidential chatter, and neither one has ruled out the possibility that he could join the Republican ticket, though both add the standard qualifier that such an outcome is unlikely.

While each potential running mate would bring his own strengths and weaknesses to the ticket, Christie's early and more forceful advocacy of Romney may be a key factor for the likely nominee to consider when making his decision. 

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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