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Branstad In for Romney, Santorum Out of Race, Iowa Political Insiders Weigh In

With Gov. Terry Branstad's endorsement and Rick Santorum out, Republicans in the swing state of Iowa embrace Romney and turn their attention to general election.

Did Iowa's Gov. Terry Branstad get a tip, does he have more clout than people realize, or does he just have really, really good timing?

Iowa's political insiders say it was coincidence that the Republican governor ended his silence and endorsed Mitt Romney as the GOP choice for president moments before news broke that Romney's biggest challenger, , was suspending his campaign on Tuesday.

"It's serendipity," said , an Iowa GOP staple who was a campaign leader for former candidate . "For Gov. Branstad, it's terrific he came forward when he did -- although Santorum then stepped on Gov. Branstad's story -- so that was in front when he declared his support for Romney while it was a contested race."

"And it was wise for Santorum to drop out when he did and good for the party," Woolson said.

Iowa Republicans say the timing was right for both the governor and Santorum. The GOP can now focus on the general election.

Iowa has been, and is expected to again be, a tight swing state in November.

"I don't think either party will have a comfortable election, for Obama or Gov. Romney," said former Iowa GOP chairman Mike Mahaffey. "I just don't see it. This will be close, and it will come down to swing states. Iowa will be one of those swing states."

Still, several questions remain in Iowa for Romney.

Can he win over Iowa's strong conservative Christian wing of the Republican party that fueled Santorum's surprise, albeit ? And, will Iowans forgive Romney for ignoring the state for much of the lead up to the Caucus?

Republicans seem to think so. Nothing will heal wounds like a desire to defeat President Obama.

"I remain a Santorum supporter, but I welcome Romney to the top of our ticket," said State Rep. Kevin Koester, R-Ankeny. "I expect he will campaign hard in our state and build upon the Santorum base, not lose it to Obama."

Mahaffey said Branstad's endorsement is a sign that the party is closing ranks behind Romney.

"I think the endorsement now is an indication the party needs to and is closing ranks behind Mitt Romney," Mahaffey said. "We have seven months to go before the general election. It's time to turn our attention to President Obama and the general election."

Another question will be what role Branstad plays.

Branstad leading up to the Iowa Caucus and then remained silent after Romney and Santorum marched on.

"Iowa is a swing state now, and it will be interesting to see how active he is – if he’ll be campaigning or if it's just an endorsement," said Christopher Larimer, a political science professor at

For his part, Branstad is talking like he will be actively working on Romney's behalf.

"It's time for the party to coalesce," Branstad said in an appearance Tuesday on WHO-AM. "It's clear Mitt Romney is the strongest candidate. He has the momentum. He will win the nomination ... I want to carry Iowa for Romney."

Check out earlier Iowa Patch coverage of the Caucuses:

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Todd Richissin April 11, 2012 at 01:07 AM
I'm a journalist, so naturally skeptical, so I ask readers: Do you think the governor knew Santorum was dropping out?
B.A. Morelli April 11, 2012 at 01:02 PM
Who do you think Iowa will see more of, Mitt Romney or Barack Obama?

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