Topeka — Kansas political icon Bob Dole urged fellow Republicans on Thursday to support front-running presidential candidate Mitt Romney in the state’s caucuses, potentially boosting Romney’s chances in a state where main rival Rick Santorum figures to do well.
Romney’s campaign released a statement from Dole, the 88-year-old former U.S. Senate majority leader and 1996 Republican presidential nominee, two days ahead of Saturday’s voting at 96 locations across the state. The statement also came a day after Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator favored by many anti-abortion GOP conservatives, held a rally in the Kansas City suburb of Lenexa.
Santorum’s campaign countered with its own list of more than 60 endorsements, including former Rep. Todd Tiahrt, who represented south-central Kansas in Congress for 16 years and is now a Republican National Committee member. The list also included six conservative state legislators and leaders of the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life. No one, though, is as prominent as Dole.
Dole called Romney a “main-street conservative” and said the former Massachusetts governor would have “great success” as president working with both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Dole formally endorsed Romney before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses in January.
“I’ve known Governor Romney for some time and Kansas would be well-served if he wins in our state on Saturday,” Dole said in his statement. “Governor Romney holds a lead after winning six states on ‘Super Tuesday.’ If Governor Romney can do well here, he’ll be much closer to his goal.”
Romney also has the endorsement of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a conservative Republican known nationally for helping lawmakers in Alabama and Arizona draft tough state laws that crack down on illegal immigration.
Forty delegates to the Republican National Convention are at stake in Kansas’ caucuses, but Romney so far has no plans to visit the state ahead of the voting. Both Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul have planned multiple events today in Kansas. Paul will be in Lawrence at 7:30 p.m. today at the Lied Center.
Kobach said that Romney’s chances of winning Kansas will be affected if he doesn’t visit, “but I don’t think it’s a decisive effect.”
“The inevitability factor does help Romney a bit,” Kobach said. “Many Republicans are saying these candidates are all acceptable.”
Santorum, who won three states on Super Tuesday, has brushed off suggestions that Romney’s nomination is inevitable and said a victory in Kansas is important if his campaign is to overcome Romney. Santorum’s Kansas coordinator, Greg Cromer, said Santorum will have an event this afternoon in Topeka before going to Wichita.
Tori Walker, a 42-year-old music teacher from the Kansas City suburb of Shawnee, said she attended Santorum’s rally Wednesday because she likes Santorum’s conservative views on abortion and gay marriage.
“I know he’s a very conservative Christian person, and that aligns with my family values,” she said.
But it was Paul picking up the endorsement Thursday of Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, which has its headquarters in Wichita.