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Republican contenders seek congressional support

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney greats a woman during a town hall meeting in Sun Lakes, Ariz
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney greats a woman during a town hall meeting in Sun Lakes, Ariz

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The fight between Rick Perry and Mitt Romney for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination has moved into the corridors of Congress where they are trying to win support from lawmakers.

Former Massachusetts Governor Romney on Tuesday named Senator Roy Blunt, a 14-year-veteran of Capitol Hill, to help him win Republican backing in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

Blunt played a similar role for former President George W. Bush during the 2000 campaign when Blunt was a member of House Republican leadership.

"I know that he will be an effective liaison in sharing my vision for America with his colleagues," said Romney.

Texas Governor Perry's aides have spoken to lawmakers, and Perry recently named freshman Representative Mick Mulvaney, a member of the House Budget Committee, as an economic adviser.

With prodding from the conservative Tea Party movement, Republicans have driven much of the agenda in Congress this year, forcing President Barack Obama to accept record spending cuts as part of the effort to trim the massive U.S. deficit.

But lawmakers, like Obama, have drawn fire for failing to create jobs and cut the U.S. jobless rate, now stuck at a stubbornly high 9.1 percent.

While Congress's approval rating recently hit a record low of 12 percent, gaining support of individual members can be critical in the race for the White House.

"Perry and Romney both want to meet with leadership and members and secure endorsements," a Republican aide said.

"But there is no rush to make any endorsements, at least not by leadership. They are comfortable remaining neutral for a while," the aide said.

Endorsements from members of Congress can help presidential contenders because they can use the members' influence in their states and districts to sway voters.

"These are people who can carry your message to their districts and states where they are respected," Bonjean said. "Their endorsements show you have momentum," said Ron Bonjean, a former Republican leadership aide.

AVOID WASHINGTON

But Bonjean said he doesn't expect Perry or Perry to spend much time on Capitol Hill, considering the unpopularity of Washington.

"They will spend time meeting with lawmakers in their states and districts," he said.

Polls show Perry and Romney to be the top contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, with Perry out in front, 28 percent to 19 percent.

Two House members, Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann, along with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Senator Rick Santorum, are among those far behind.

House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican, was coy about the Republican White House race when asked about it last week during a question-and-answer session in Washington.

"Lot of great candidates. Love all of them," Boehner said, adding, "Well, some more than others."

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland; editing by Philip Barbara)

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