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Romney wins endorsements from Bob Dole, Iowa newspaper

From By Ashley Killough and Shannon Travis, CNN
December 18, 2011 -- Updated 1234 GMT (2034 HKT)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addresses a town hall meeting Saturday in Charleston, South Carolina
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addresses a town hall meeting Saturday in Charleston, South Carolina
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The two endorsements come about two weeks before the Iowa caucus
  • Bob Dole and The Des Moines Register's editorial board praise Mitt Romney's credentials
  • The paper's support is coveted, but a number of previous picks have not won the White House
  • Romney earlier won the endorsement of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley

(CNN) -- Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has scored the endorsement of Bob Dole, who lauded the former Massachusetts governor in an ad Sunday in Iowa's The Des Moines Register newspaper.

The public endorsement comes one day after the Register -- Iowa's largest newspaper -- backed Romney in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination and just over two weeks before Iowa's critical presidential caucuses on January 3.

In his advertisement, Dole said Romney is the GOP candidate is best suited to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012.

"I've known Mitt and his family for decades. His parents instilled in him a strong work ethic, rock-solid conservative values, and a deep sense of service to others," the former Kansas senator and 1996 GOP presidential nominee wrote. "These traits -- which have shone through in both the debates and in my own visits with him -- will serve him well in the White House."

Dole also said Romney "rescued a flailing Winter Olympics when it was mired in financial scandal." And as governor of Massachusetts, Dole wrote, Romney "managed to both balance the state's budget and cut taxes while dealing with an overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature."

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The Register's editorial board said Romney was the most qualified candidate competing in the caucuses.

While the paper didn't endorse Romney during his last run for president in 2007, the editorial board said voters now face a different GOP field and Romney "has matured as a candidate."

"Rebuilding the economy is the nation's top priority, and Romney makes the best case among the Republicans that he could do that," the editorial board wrote.

The board hailed Romney for his "solid credentials," saying he was the most likely candidate to see through "knee-jerk, ideological" perspectives and "bridge the political divide in Washington."

Taking issue with the two other top-tier candidates, the paper claimed Romney stood out against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whom the board called "an undisciplined partisan who would alienate, not unite, if he reverts to mean-spirited attacks on display as House speaker."

It also criticized Texas Rep. Ron Paul as someone with a libertarian ideology that would "lead to economic chaos and isolationism."

Also significant, the board somewhat defended Romney against a line of attack taken by opponents who criticize him as a "flip-flopper."

"Though Romney has tended to adapt some positions to different times and places, he is hardly unique. It should be possible for a politician to say, 'I was wrong, and I have changed my mind'," the paper wrote.

But the paper still reserved questions over his changing tune on issues such as abortion and said it was up to the voters to decide "whether such subtly nuanced statements express Romney's true beliefs or if he's trying to have it both ways."

While the paper's endorsement is highly coveted, it does not necessarily spell success for a candidate.

In the last election cycle, the paper endorsed GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who didn't actively campaign in the state and took third place in the caucuses, while former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee pulled off a surprise victory.

The newspaper has long endorsed candidates for the general presidential election, but it began making endorsements for the caucuses in 1988.

Since then, three of its choices went on to win the contest: Dole in 1996 and 1988 and then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush in 2000.

In addition, three endorsees eventually secured the Republican nomination: Dole in 1996, Bush in 2000 and McCain in 2008.

Only one of its chosen candidates - Bush in 2000 - went on to win the White House.

According to an American Research Group poll taken Dec. 8-11, Romney placed second in the Hawkeye State with 17% of support among likely caucus voters, while Gingrich took first with 22%. Paul tied with Romney at 17%

On Friday, Romney garnered a nod from South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley. South Carolina's primary, set for January 21, is the first presidential contest in the South and the third overall in the early voting season.

CNN's Peter Hamby, Robert Yoon, Oliver Janney and Chris Welch contributed to this report.

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