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NEW: Conservative Sen. Coburn also backs Mitt Romney's campaign
Rep. Cantor is the first top House Republican leader to make an endorsement
The conservative Cantor is a tea party favorite
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor endorsed Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential nominee Sunday, and another key conservative, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, also announced he was backing the former Massachusetts governor.
Backing from the two conservative lawmakers is noteworthy because Romney is often painted by his rivals as too moderate. Both Coburn and Cantor represent states holding primaries on Tuesday.
“Mitt Romney is the only candidate in the race who has put forward a pro-growth bold plan for job creation,” Cantor, R-Virginia, told reporters Sunday.
He added, “Mitt Romney is the only individual who has actually created jobs and is the answer to this ailing economy that can get us back on track.”
The conservative Cantor, a tea party favorite, is the first top House Republican leader to make an endorsement in the GOP race for a nominee to take on President Barack Obama in November.
“I do believe Mitt Romney will win our nomination,” Cantor said on the NBC program “Meet the Press.”
In a Sunday briefing with reporters, Romney senior strategist Eric Fehrnstrom said Cantor called Romney on February 29 to tell the candidate of his support. Fehrnstrom called Cantor’s backing a “pleasant surprise.”
“I gotta believe in the back of his mind he’s also thinking about maintaining a Republican majority in the House and elected Republicans are looking for someone who has coat tails, not concrete shoes,” Fehrnstrom said. “I think nominating a person who doesn’t have any experience in the private sector, who’s been a Washington insider all his life like Rick Santorum, is not a good contrast for the Republican party to put up against Barack Obama.”
Meanwhile, Coburn wrote in an op-ed published in the Oklahoman that Romney was “the person who is best equipped to solve the urgent problems before us.”
Coburn, along with Cantor, is seen as a “true conservative” on both fiscal and social issues. Coburn is sometimes referred to as “Dr. No” in the Senate for his votes against bills he considered unconstitutional.
In his op-ed, Coburn touted Romney’s fiscal conservatism as critical to his choice.
“What Romney has done in his 25 years in the private sector is precisely what we need a president to do in Washington,” Coburn said. “Romney has done hard things. He has turned businesses around, told people hard truths about what needed to be done, inspired confidence and overcome excuses. Romney is not a career politician or a career legislator. As a former governor and business leader, he is an executive who knows how to use executive power.”
CNN’s Rachel Streitfeld and Tom Cohen contributed to this report.