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Romney wins new Missouri endorsements

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 12, 2012 - Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney added to his high-level Missouri support today, announcing the endorsement of a congressman from southwest Missouri as well as more backing from state lawmakers.

Romney's newest congressional backer from the state is U.S. Rep. Billy Long, R-Springfield. Long's 7th district encompasses most of southwest Missouri, generally a Republican stronghold.

"I'm extremely proud to support a true conservative like Mitt Romney," Long said in a statement. "Missouri voters --- as well as voters across the country --- are looking for someone who will reverse President (Barack) Obama's failed policies. Mitt Romney will get rid of Obamacare, stop our government's out-of-control spending, and, most important of all, create jobs for the American people. If conservatives are serious about getting our country back on track, Mitt Romney is the clear choice."

Added Romney in a statement: "It's an honor to have the support of so many conservative Missouri leaders. This level of support shows that my message of restoring fiscal sanity to Washington is resonating with voters across the country. These supporters will be crucial to help me spread my message of creating jobs and cutting spending in the months to come."

Romney's press release added that the Republican presidential frontrunner also received endorsements from Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, and Rep. Kathy Conway, R-St. Charles.

Long is the second U.S. House member from Missouri to endorse a GOP presidential candidate. U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio, endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry months ago.

Romney already has the support of a number of high-ranking Missouri politicians, such as U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. and state Auditor Tom Schweich. Previously, he had snagged endorsements from a slew of state legislators, including House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles.

Romney also has the support of some of Missour's biggest political donors, including Harbour Group chairman Sam Fox.

The endorsements come after Romney scored a narrow victory in the Iowa caucuses, followed by a more decisive win Tuesday in New Hampshire.

Missouri is holding a primary on Feb. 7, but state Republicans have declared that vote won't determine who gets the state's delegates. Republicans as of now plan to select delegates on March 17 through a caucus process.

UPDATE: In an afternoon conference call, Long - who was an auctioneer before he was elected to Congress in 2010 - said one of the things that drew him to Romney was his "excellent record in the private sector."

When asked about recent attacks against Romney from GOP rivals over his role at Bain Capital, Long said such criticism is "just the opposite of what the Republican Party stands for."

"They're attacking the free enterprise system," Long said, referring to Romney's rivals. "And it's just deplorable in my estimation. And I'm sorry they've stooped to this level with their attacks."

While Romney fared well in suburban areas of Missouri in 2008, he failed to make much traction in the rural parts of the state. The vast majority of rural counties were won by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who narrowly lost the Missouri primary to Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. Romney trailed both.

But both Long and former Sen. Jim Talent, R-Missouri, said on the call that things have changed since 2008 in favor of Romney. Talent pointed out how a number of rural lawmakers - such as Mayer - have backed Romney's campaign this time.

"I think that's the significance of all these endorsements which come from all around the state," said Talent, observing that Long and Mayer come from rural areas. "I think he has an excellent chance to run well in Missouri."

Noting that the 7th Congressional District is one of the fastest-growing parts of the state and contains plenty of rural counties, Long added: "I think our job is to get the word out and send a message out that we need to unify, get behind a good conservative candidate that can take back the White House."

"And I think that message is going to sell very well this time in the rural areas," Long said.

Jason Rosenbaum, a freelance journalist in St. Louis, covers state and local politics and government. 

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.