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ACU President David Keene Endorses Romney

Less than 24 hours after former Gov. Mitt Romney (Mass.) jousted with his rivals over his conservative credentials at the CNN/YouTube debate in Florida, he is set to receive the endorsement from American Conservative Union President David Keene.

Keene said he became "convinced that Mitt Romney represents our best hope for 2008" and added that in the weeks remaining before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, 2008 he would work to persuade "my fellow conservatives that if we are serious about electing a conservative president in 2008, it's time to unite behind his candidacy."

Long courted by Romney, Keene agreed to formalize his endorsement of the former governor during a face to face meeting in Florida on Tuesday, according to knowledgeable sources. Of Keene, Romney said he was "proud" to have the endorsement for his "campaign for conservative change."

Keene is a longtime member of the conservative movement, having spent the last quarter-century at the American Conservative Union. Prior to that post, Keene held a number of political positions including Southern regional political director for Ronald Reagan in 1976, national political director for George H. W. Bush in 1980 and senior adviser to Bob Dole in 1988 and 1996.

Keene joins a stable of conservative leaders backing Romney, a group that includes Bob Jones III, Paul Weyrich and James Bopp Jr. and reflects of an aggressive courtship of this community by the campaign since well before Romney became an official candidate.

Much like former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Romney knows that his past public statements raise real questions among conservative voters as to whether he is really one of them. His campaign's strategy is to use the endorsements of high-profile conservatives like Keene as validators for Romney within the conservative world. "If he's good enough for Bob Jones III and David Keene shouldn't he be good enough for you?" is how the argument goes.

It's not clear yet whether the strategy will work. We tend to be skeptical about the power of an endorsement to transfer popularity or, in this case, conservative bona fides. Voters are also generally skeptical and don't tend to take marching orders from someone else -- even if that someone is a person they like and respect.

Romney's best hope is that his support from conservative leaders convinces rank and file conservatives to take a serious look at him and judge for themselves whether his conversion on several critical social issues is genuine or part of a political ploy.

So, people like Keene can get Romney in the door; selling himself is up to the candidate.

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 29, 2007; 9:12 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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