Former Gov. Jeb Bush's endorsement of Mitt Romney on Tuesday, which sent the message that it's time for Republicans to rally behind their likely nominee, also raised a question: Who's next?
Speculation immediately centered on South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, one of the most popular leaders in the conservative movement, when word leaked Wednesday that he was meeting with Romney on Capitol Hill.
"I hope something comes of it. We need to get this show on the road,'' said Republican consultant Warren Tompkins, who has advised DeMint, echoing a widely shared sentiment in the Republican establishment. "Jeb's endorsement was a big step forward, and maybe it will be what breaks the dam.''
Alas, National Journal staff writer Dan Friedman reports an endorsement is not forthcoming, though DeMint offered encouraging words that could swing reluctant tea party activists to Romney's side. "He's simply been meeting with candidates out of courtesy,'' said DeMint's spokesman, Wesley Denton.
Among the other big "gets" still on the sidelines in the GOP primary: Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who resisted pleadings to get into the race himself; Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who backed Rick Perry before he quit; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a likely vice presidential shortlister; and former Missisippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who said he voted for Newt Gingrich in his home state's primary last week.
But would nods from any of these guys really make a difference? Romney has had most of the Republican establishment locked up for some time, but his rivals are undeterred. Discontent in the conservative grassroots is what is fueling the campaigns of Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.
"The establishment is not where the naysayers are. The base is missing, and that's not going to change with another endorsement,'' said Republican strategist Kim Alfano, who has advised Daniels. "The big get is getting one of these candidates who are still standing to throw their support to Romney.''
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