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Endorsement Watch: DeMint Backs Stutzman; Cantor Goes for Rubio

Two noteworthy Congressional endorsements were announced Tuesday morning in a pair of closely watched open-seat Senate races in Indiana and Florida.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) endorsed Indiana state Sen. Marlin Stutzman (R) two weeks before the May 4 GOP primary. DeMint’s move is just the latest example of him wading into a contested primary this cycle and choosing to back the candidate who is not the desired nominee of party leaders. Stutzman is widely viewed as an underdog in the GOP race, which also features former Rep. John Hostettler and former Sen. Dan Coats, the favorite of the party’s establishment.

In a release Tuesday, DeMint described Stutzman as the “conservative outsider in the Indiana Senate race who will take on the Washington establishment.”

DeMint, chairman of the Senate Conservatives Fund, said Stutzman reminds him of former Florida Speaker Marco Rubio (R), a Senate candidate who has overtaken Gov. Charlie Crist (R) in the polls and become a favorite of national conservative activists.

DeMint is an unknown figure in Indiana and his endorsement won’t directly deliver votes, but it could help boost Stutzman’s profile in some conservative circles and aid his fundraising.

Meanwhile, in Florida, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) on Tuesday morning became the latest member of the Republican establishment to endorse Rubio’s Senate bid.

“There is not question the voters in Florida need a real choice and a real change in direction,” Cantor said in a conference call Monday. “Marco is somebody who has demonstrated he is firm in his principles and his beliefs, and he keeps his word.”

Cantor’s support of Rubio is yet another sign that Crist, who began the primary as the runaway favorite, is floundering.

Cantor’s endorsement comes less than a week after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) threw his support behind Rubio. In addition to DeMint, other Congressional leaders backing Rubio include House GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.).

On Tuesday’s conference call, Cantor was asked his thoughts on reports that Crist is considering abandoning his Republican bid to instead run as an Independent.

“That to me shows someone that has built a career on our party and the principles we believe is ready to jettison that in order to stay in office,” Cantor said. “What we need are principle-based leaders who are there to make tough decisions for the people of this country.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which early on had endorsed Crist, on Monday asked its allies for help persuading Crist to set aside thoughts of running as an Independent. “If Governor Crist believes he cannot win a primary, then the proper course of action is he drop out of the race and wait for another day,” the memo from NRSC Executive Director Rob Jesmer said.

Crist addressed that question in an interview with WFTS-TV, saying, “The law gives you until April 30 to make such a declaration, and I’m going to take my time and be as thoughtful as I need to be.”

“I’m getting a lot of advice in that direction and I’m a listener, so I’m certainly listening to it,” Crist said.

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