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GOP closing ranks to defend Romney

Primary foes Gingrich, Cain, Perry, Santorum boost the former governor

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It had been mere hours since Mitt Romney angered Palestinians by saying Israel's culture was part of the reason the country has prospered. But that didn't stop former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, previously one of Mr. Romney's most bitter rivals in the Republican presidential primaries, from rushing to his defense Monday.

"Well first of all, I think that the United Nations camps have been terrorist training grounds, have been a disaster, and have taught socialism," Mr. Gingrich said at a campaign event in Arlington. "It's not just with the Palestinians. I think the whole issue of 'how do you encourage an economy based on trust and faith; how do you encourage a rule of law when you have Hamas and Hezbollah and K'taka?' I mean, I think that's a legitimate question to say, 'Maybe these are antithetical to being prosperous.' "

Six months ago, Mr. Gingrich might well have pounced on the former Massachusetts governor's remarks, but his quick defense came as Mr. Romney's former intraparty foes rally around their presumptive nominee and campaign surrogates flood into swing states across the country.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry recently attended his first official Romney campaign event in Las Vegas, and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania did likewise earlier this month in the Keystone State.

The mercurial Herman Cain, the former head of the Godfather's Pizza chain, came out swinging last week and defended Mr. Romney against his decision not to release additional years of his tax returns.

"Let me say this as emphatically as I can: Who cares about Mitt Romney's tax returns?" he said. "Secondly, I love the fact that the guy is rich.

"I'm not mad, y'all, I just get passionate about this, OK?" he assured reporters after continuing to talk about the state of the economy and other critiques of the Obama administration.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican, endorsed Mr. Romney in early May on the same day she made an appearance alongside Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Mr. Romney in Portsmouth, Va.

While Mr. Romney's former rivals are now rallying to his side, other surrogates have likewise been busy ginning up enthusiasm — and cash — for the former Massachusetts governor.

The Romney campaign did not have specific numbers, but said that the politicians, in no particular order, who have attended the most events on behalf of the campaign have been former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, and Mr. McDonnell.

All five have either been mentioned as a possible pick for vice president or hail from a swing state — or, in the cases of Ms. Ayotte, Mr. Portman and Mr. McDonnell, both.

"In a close race, the surrogates allow to create headiness," said Robert E. Denton, Jr., a political science professor at Virginia Tech. "Most of the time, because of an identification, the surrogates can attract [a] kind of particular group."

Much was made of Mr. Santorum's endorsement of Mr. Romney in May, which came near the bottom of an email to supporters. Neverthless, Mr. Santorum, who won major support from evangelical Christians during the Republican primary season, could help win over blue-collar workers in the state he used to represent in the U.S. Senate — depending on how much campaigning he chooses to do.

Mr. Denton said that more emphatic support from Mr. Santorum, a devout Catholic, could also help sway conservatives wary about Mr. Romney's Mormon religion.

"It generates excitement, as long as the surrogates have some sort of appeal either by name recognition or by idea identification," he said.

The Romney campaign, however, would only comment on the support their candidate is getting, rather than potential support in the future.

"We appreciate everyone who is working to help get Mitt Romney elected in November so that we can turn our economy around and get our nation back on the right track," said a Romney campaign official.

Still, former rivals and critics of Mr. Romney are consistently reminded of their past criticisms that President Obama's campaign are now making — his refusal to release more years of his tax returns and his tenure at Bain Capital, for example. Their answer? Take a look at the other guy.

"It's very easy to support Mitt Romney when [the] opponent is Barack Obama," Mr. Gingrich said Monday.

Other former Republican presidential rivals, meanwhile, remain somewhat on the fringe. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has endorsed Mr. Romney, but has said he will not attend the Republican National Convention. After suggesting in March the idea of a third-party candidate merited attention, he was summarily uninvited from a Florida Republican event.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who has ramped down his campaign but technically remains in the race, will have hundreds of delegates at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

Mr. McDonnell, who chairs the Republican Platform Committee, said that one of the two Virginia members of the committee is a Paul supporter. Mr. Paul has planned a rally before the convention starts.

Jesse Penton, a senior official with the Paul campaign, said supporters want to have their views included, and that the campaign has had productive talks with "multiple parties" involved in the platform committee.

But while support from surrogates like vice-presidential contenders Mr. Portman and Mr. Pawlenty is not terribly suprising, more unlikely backers have emerged as well. Former Alabama Rep. Arthur Davis, who seconded President Obama's nomination at the Democratic National Convention in 2008, is now a Republican, and recently spoke at an event organized in part by the Romney campaign at a home in Bristow, Va.

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, who is eyeing a bid for Virginia governor in 2013, previously said that if Republicans chose Mr. Romney as their candidate, they would "basically be conceding" the issue of health care to Democrats because Mr. Romney helped enact a plan similar to the one championed by Mr. Obama when he was governor of Massachusetts.

But Mr. Cuccinelli introduced Mr. McDonnell and Mr. Romney at a recent campaign event in Sterling, Va., and, akin to Mr. Gingrich, has said voters have two choices on health care: Mr. Obama, who supports the law, and Mr. Romney, who has vowed to repeal it.

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