Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan officially endorsed Mitt Romney on Friday, saying that he has “the best chance of defeating Barack Obama.”
The endorsement from the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee comes just days ahead of Wisconsin’s primary and adds to the growing march of prominent and establishment Republicans who have backed the former Massachusetts governor.
“I am convinced that Mitt Romney has the skills, the tenacity, the principles, the courage, and the integrity to do what it takes to get America back on track,” Ryan said on Fox News’ Fox & Friends.
Although he called the nomination process "constructive" and "productive," Ryan added, “I think we’re entering a phase where it could become counterproductive if this drags on much longer.” The party needs to "coalesce" around a single candidate, he said.
Ryan said in the lead-up to Wisconsin's April 3 primary that people have asked him who is the best choice; he said he followed two criteria in making his decision: “Who is the best person to be president … and who has the best chance of defeating Barack Obama? And, in my opinion, Mitt Romney is clearly that person.”
Ryan, a rising star in the party, is considered a potential candidate for vice president, although he dismissed such talk on Friday, saying that he has instead been focusing on legislative matters. Republicans pushed Ryan's $3.5 trillion budget through the House on Thursday over Democratic objections and 10 party defections. It relies on deep spending cuts and an overhaul of Medicare.
In a later appearance on Wisconsin radio, Ryan insisted that Romney was a true conservative. "I do believe we're not settling," he told WTMJ's Charlie Sykes. He added that he has nothing bad to say about Rick Santorum, and while he did not say that the former Pennsylvania senator needed to drop out, he noted: "If Rick loses Wisconsin I think that’s a pretty big signal that we’re rallying around our eventual nominee.”
The endorsement could be a major boost for Romney, as he looks to gain the backing of conservatives. He has won other high-profile endorsements this week, including from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former President George H.W. Bush. That Ryan, viewed as perhaps the premier congressional spokesman for conservative principles, vouched for Romney's "principles" will help to calm worries that the front-runner is insufficiently conservative.
The Democratic National Committee has already produced a web ad featuring Ryan and Romney that paints the duo as enemies of the middle class.