Minn. House speaker to back Romney

Published 9:20 am Friday, February 3, 2012

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota’s House speaker and majority leader planned Friday to endorse Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney days ahead of the state’s political caucuses, according to a leading state Capitol Republican familiar with their intentions.

The official told The Associated Press that Speaker Kurt Zellers and Majority Leader Matt Dean will headline a list of Romney’s legislative backers. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the roster wasn’t due for public release until later Friday.

The endorsements signal a desire by high-level Republicans to close ranks around Romney before next Tuesday’s caucuses.

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Other top Minnesota Republicans in Romney’s corner include former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Rep. Erik Paulsen and former Sen. Norm Coleman.

Zellers earlier supported Pawlenty, but he dropped out of the White House race in August. Dean had endorsed Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann before Iowa’s caucuses, where a disappointing showing led to her withdrawal. For her part, Bachmann has said she will remain neutral for now.

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 are paying attention to Minnesota’s normally sleepy caucuses, where preference ballot results are nonbinding on 40 Republican National Convention delegates who will be chosen later this year.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul was due to hold three events Saturday and add two more stops on Monday. He has been airing television ads since late January.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was due in the state on Sunday; a political action committee supporting his bid is airing television ads promoting him.

Minnesota advisers to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have said they expect him to squeeze in a visit before Tuesday’s vote.