Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina won't hold its presidential primary for another five months, but former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is already lining up support in his bid for the Republican nomination.
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and former Sen. Elizabeth Dole on Thursday endorsed Romney's campaign.
“The lack of leadership from the current administration has had a devastating effect on our nation, our economy and on American families across the country,” Burr said in a statement. “Gov. Romney is a strong leader with a proven track record of addressing the most pressing issues of our time – growing the economy and creating jobs for American workers. I am proud to give him my support, and I am confident he will be our next president.”
Dole said she wrote Romney on Monday to provide her support.
"It is vitally important that we nominate an individual with both a steady hand for these difficult times and the experience and capabilities to get our country back on track," she said in a statement. "I’ve been in all of Iowa’s 99 counties twice and have met hundreds and hundreds of dedicated voters. Endorsements may not matter, but hopefully my friends in Iowa will also offer their support to the governor – a man of experience, leadership and unassailable character.”
Karl Smith, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina School of Government, said he wasn't surprised by the endorsements.
"I think Romney is pretty much the establishment candidate, and I would expect him to get the vast majority of mainstream endorsements,” Smith said.
Lining up backing early will help Romney fend off charges from other GOP contenders, Smith said.
"This has been the most tumultuous field that anyone can remember," he said. "We have been through just about everybody but Romney at the top spot (in polls), and so now, if the establishment can come in and push him to the top spot, maybe things can settle down.”
Walton Robinson, spokesman for the North Carolina Democratic Party, criticized Burr's endorsement, saying both the Republican senator and Romney are out of touch with voters.
"Both support the extreme tea party agenda, and both are woefully out of touch with the needs of average North Carolinians," Robinson said in a statement. "Both Burr and Romney view tax cuts for the middle class as something insignificant, referring to them as ‘little band aids’ or ‘IOUs.'
"If either of them spent more time here, they may actually know what North Carolinians are concerned about," he continued.
Endorsements don’t seem to make much of a difference to voters, but they do matter with political organizing, Smith said.
"The fact that someone seems to be the sort of leading candidate approved of by fellow Republicans makes certain party insiders more willing to work hard to get that person elected on the ground,” he said.
The move also could help Burr if Romney is elected.
”Obviously being closer to the president is good, but I think, more generally, what motivates people do this is that Romney is the best candidate for the Republican Party in terms of ... winning the election," Smith said. "That, in general, is in Richard Burr’s interest and in every other major Republican’s interest.”