Isaac Brekken, AP
Texas Gov. Rick Perry endorsed Mitt Romney on Wednesday via a statement on Perry's website: “Mitt Romney has earned the Republican presidential nomination through hard work, a strong organization and a disciplined message of restoring America after nearly four years of failed job-killing policies from President Obama."
Although intended to unite the GOP base behind Romney, the unique timing and context of Perry's announcement create as many questions as answers.
Since the Republican primaries are effectively over and Mitt Romney is already the de facto GOP nominee, at first glance the timing of Perry's endorsement may seem late. But simply stated, this is essentially just a case of falling dominoes.
Before this week Perry had been supporting Newt Gingrich, but when Gingrich announced this week that he will soon suspend his campaign, Perry wasted no time in switching his allegiance to presumptive frontrunner Romney.
"Perry had allied himself with Newt Gingrich after exiting the race in January," the Boston Globe reported. "But with the Gingrich campaign saying Wednesday afternoon that the former House speaker will withdraw next week, Perry announced in a statement Wednesday night that he would back Romney."
Does this mean other former Romney foes like Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum will now endorse him?
Bachmann sounds like she's inching ever closer to formally endorsing Romney. USA Today reported that "Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer (Thursday) afternoon she'll formally endorse Romney 'all in good time.' But first, she said, she wants to make sure her supporters who are evangelical voters and tea party backers have time to come together after the bruising primary season."
Santorum, however, is a different story and will probably need more time to mull such an endorsement. The Christian Post reported, "In a Tuesday interview with CNN's Piers Morgan, Santorum admitted that Romney would be the GOP candidate to face Obama, and he expressed his commitment to his party — but when asked if his remarks were an endorsement of Romney, Santorum simply said, 'You can call it whatever you want.'"
What does Perry's endorsement mean for evangelicals?
Perry's allegiance with Romney — combined with the announcement last week that Rev. Robert Jeffress is also endorsing Romney — likely means that most evangelical Republicans will fall in line behind Romney.
In that context, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat sees only one way for religion to resurface as a prominent issue in the 2012 election. "For Romney’s religion to become a significant issue in the general election, the White House probably needs the media to play the Mormon card for them," Douthat wrote Wednesday. "Not through overt attacks on Mormon theology and practice, which would be out of bounds for most mainstream outlets. Rather, the Obama campaign’s best-case scenario involves a wave of theoretically evenhanded coverage come August and September — newsmagazine cover stories on Mormon theology, 60 Minutes specials on LDS history, pieces about Romney’s own family tree — that end up reminding undecided voters of the things that they find strange and alien about the Republican nominee’s faith."
What does the endorsement mean in terms of fundraising?
Perry led all Republican presidential candidates by fundraising $17 million in the third quarter of 2011. However, by mid-November the tides had turned and the Houston Chronicle was reporting, "Perry’s campaign fundraising has gone into a tailspin as a result of poor debate performances and plunging poll numbers."
Even though it's been three months since Perry suspended his campaign, the Houston Chronicle revealed Tuesday that Perry still leads Romney and President Obama for fundraising in four states: Oklahoma, Louisiana, West Virginia and Texas.
Bottom line: Romney may now pick up donors in parts of the country fiercely loyal to Perry, but they will be relatively small compared to the totality of Team Romney's fundraising machine.
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