Georgia lawmakers backing Romney

ATLANTA - Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's presidential bid picked up more support Thursday from inside the Georgia Capitol.

Eleven Republican state lawmakers endorsed Romney in the Feb. 5 Georgia GOP primary, including five former backers of Fred Thompson, the ex-senator from Tennessee who dropped out of the race this week.

Romney, a former business executive widely credited with making the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah a financial success, would be the right president to turn around a struggling U.S. economy, said House Speaker Pro Tempore Mark Burkhalter, co-chairman of Romney's Georgia campaign.

"This country needs an economy president, someone who has not spent his career in Washington but has spent a career in business creating jobs," said Burkhalter, R-Alpharetta.

Rep. Tom Rice, R-Norcross, praised Romney's accomplishments as a Republican governor working with a Massachusetts legislature controlled by Democrats, particularly in getting landmark health care legislation enacted.

"I am impressed that he was able to move them ahead without compromising his values," he said.

Two other Republicans from Gwinnett County's House delegation, Brooks Coleman of Duluth and David Casas of Lilburn, also are in the Romney camp, Burkhalter said.

The ranks of Romney supporters in Georgia have swelled since Thompson called it quits after staking his campaign on South Carolina and finishing a disappointing third in that first-in-the-South primary.

Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, a former Thompson supporter, went with Romney earlier this week.

Other lawmakers who made the switch from Thompson to Romney on Thursday included Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, chairman of the House Rules Committee.

Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who spent two days in Georgia this week, are vying for the votes of conservative Republicans who had backed Thompson.

Huckabee appeals higher to evangelical Christian voters than Romney, who is Mormon.

But the Huckabee campaign is running low on money, while Romney has been able to call upon his personal wealth to help bolster his coffers.

"He is simply the best conservative leader in this field," Burkhalter said.

Rice said he believes Romney, who has won primaries in Michigan and caucuses in Wyoming and Nevada, is more electable than Arizona Sen. John McCain, winner of the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries.

McCain has been able to appeal to independent voters in both the current campaign and when he ran for president in 2000.

But Rice said he could run into trouble with Republicans because of his support for legislation giving illegal immigrants already in this country a pathway to citizenship and his opposition to President Bush's tax cuts.

"I'm not so sure the Republican base wouldn't be more challenged by a McCain candidacy than a Romney candidacy," Rice said.