Former US president George H.W. Bush backs Mitt Romney for president, the Houston Chronicle reported on Thursday, an important boost for Romney from the Republican establishment less than two weeks before the Iowa caucuses.
The comments were not a formal endorsement, but Bush told the newspaper he had known Romney for several years and also knew his father, former Michigan governor George Romney.
“I think Romney is the best choice for us,” Bush told the newspaper.
He cited Romney’s “stability, experience, principles” and said, in a possible reference to Romney’s famously volatile rival Newt Gingrich: “He’s a fine person. I just think he’s mature and reasonable — not a bomb thrower.”
Romney, who has been a front runner in the race for the Republican nomination for months, is viewed as too moderate by many conservatives. He has failed to gain more than about 25 percent support in national polls as a series of rivals have surged into first place and then faded.
Romney said he had spoken to the former president and thanked him for his support.
“I’m very encouraged by the support of [former] president Bush for my candidacy,” Romney told reporters in Berlin, New Hampshire, where he was campaigning on Thursday.
Gingrich pushed past Romney into first place recently, although the former speaker of the US House of Representatives has faded partly because of withering attacks by Romney and his supporters.
Bush said he knew Gingrich fairly well and told the Chronicle: “I’m not his biggest advocate.”
The two men had a disagreement in 1990 when recession drove the then-president to agree to new taxes, despite having vowed not to do so. Gingrich, then a Republican House leader known for strong opinions and an outspoken style, declined to appear with the Republican president.
Bush lives in Texas, but he is not backing Texas Governor Rick Perry.
“I like Perry, but he doesn’t seem to be going anywhere — he’s not surging forward,” Bush said.
Perry succeeded Bush’s son, former US president George W. Bush, as Texas governor in 2001, but the elder Bush backed another Perry rival, US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, in the Republican gubernatorial primary last year.
The elder Bush said he could support any of the Republicans now seeking the nomination, although he expressed concern about the prospects for another Texan, the libertarian-leaning Congressman Ron Paul. Paul has moved past Gingrich in polls of Iowans likely to participate in the state’s Jan. 3 nominating caucuses.
“I want to see Obama beaten,” he said. “I just don’t believe Ron Paul can get the nomination.”