ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota's House speaker endorsed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney days before the state's political caucuses where the former Massachusetts governor is aiming to duplicate his 2008 win.
Republican Rep. Kurt Zellers said he thinks Romney, a businessman, is best-positioned to build the U.S. economy.
"Mitt Romney is the conservative candidate who has a clear plan to empower small businesses, rebuild the middle class and create long-lasting economic growth," Zellers said.
House Majority Leader Matt Dean also lined up behind Romney as the campaign released a lengthy list of Republicans in his column. The endorsements signaled a desire by high-level Republicans to close ranks around Romney before next Tuesday's caucuses.
Other top Minnesota Republicans in Romney's corner include former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Rep. Erik Paulsen and former Sen. Norm Coleman.
Zellers had supported Pawlenty, but he dropped out of the White House race in August. Dean had endorsed Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann before a disappointing showing in Iowa's caucuses led to her withdrawal. For her part, Bachmann has said she will remain neutral for now.
Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem told reporters Friday that he wasn't taking sides either.
"Not at this point, I'm going to stay out of it," said Senjem, who represents a city Texas Rep. Ron Paul will visit Saturday.
Romney won the state four years ago when eventual nominee John McCain was his chief competition. The former Massachusetts governor visited Minnesota on Wednesday on the heels of a runaway win in Florida's primary and he is expected back early next week.
But others also are paying attention to Minnesota's normally sleepy caucuses, where preference ballot results don't bind the 40 Republican National Convention delegates who will be chosen later this year.
Paul was due to hold three events Saturday and add two more stops on Monday. He has been airing television ads since late January.
He won a noteworthy endorsement of his own on Friday. Former state GOP chairman Chris Georgacas, a longtime ally of Pawlenty, said he is behind Paul.
"Ron Paul is the more authentic representative of true commitment to limited government and economic policies that are going to restore America's prosperity than the alternatives, and that includes Governor Romney," Georgacas said in a telephone interview.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was due in the state Sunday; a political action committee supporting his bid is airing television ads promoting him. Ron Carey, another former Minnesota Republican chairman, is helping steer his campaign in the state.
Minnesota advisers to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have said they expect him to squeeze in a visit before Tuesday's vote.
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