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For Romney, an endorsement from Jeb Bush

By Marc Caputo, McClatchy Newspapers –

MIAMI — Republican Party standard bearer and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ended months of speculation by endorsing Mitt Romney on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the GOP candidate celebrated a big win in Illinois.

Bush had declined to endorse Romney in Florida’s Jan. 31 primary in order for the candidate to prove himself.

“Primary elections have been held in 34 states,” Bush said in a written statement, “and now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall.”

Although Bush’s endorsement is a big one, it only will go so far in helping Romney. His candidacy has been hobbled by a lack of enthusiasm among very conservative voters — and a surplus of gaffes from the campaign.

As Romney’s campaign basked in the glow of the endorsement, senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom flubbed a question on CNN where he was asked whether the campaign plans to retool its message in the general election.

“I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign, everything changes,” Fehrnstrom said. “It’s almost like an Etch-A-Sketch, you can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.”

Liberals, Obama’s campaign and Romney’s Republican rivals pounced. Republican Rick Santorum’s spokeswoman, Alice Stewart, passed out some Etch-A-Sketch toys at a Romney event in Maryland.

The flub was a costly one because it involved such a childish goofy-sounding word that pointed to a more-serious truth: Opponents see Romney as a flip-flopper.

Reporters, kept at bay from the gaffe-prone Romney, asked the candidate about it, but he initially snapped that he wasn’t giving a news conference. Then he reversed himself and, rather than talk about the Bush endorsement, told reporters that he was the same old candidate.

“I’m running as a conservative Republican,” he said. “The policies and positions are the same.”

But some hope Romney at least tones down his rhetoric — regarding immigration. Recently, Bush expressed concern that the Republican debate over immigration could turn off Latino voters, a key voting bloc.

Frank Sharry, executive director of the liberal America’s Voice pro-immigration group, said Romney had “cemented the Republican Party’s anti-Latino brand” and that Bush’s endorsement hurt the cause of a more sober discussion about the issue.

“So it ain’t so, Jeb,” Sharry said in a written statement. “You are one of the few people in the party who has the standing and guts to publicly challenge him on it. But instead you endorse him.”

Bush’s endorsement is significant in that it lends a major conservative name to Romney’s campaign. It also lends an aura of inevitability to Romney. Many wanted Bush to enter the race when it appeared Romney couldn’t blow out his opponents.

But where the endorsement ends talk that Bush will run for president this year, it ushered in a fresh round of speculation that he’ll be tapped as Romney’s running mate.

If anything is certain in this protracted Republican primary race it’s that Bush’s endorsement probably won’t do much to end the contest now, and it probably won’t persuade Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum to drop out any time soon. Bush’s endorsement would have had the biggest effect in Florida, which Romney won anyway.

Still, the Bush endorsement helped blunt the Etch-A-Sketch flub and it gave the talking heads on cable news something more to talk about other than delegates and the threat of a brokered Republican National Convention in Tampa in August.

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