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DES MOINES (Reuters) - Republican elder statesman and former U.S. Senate leader Bob Dole on Sunday endorsed Mitt Romney to be the Republican presidential nominee, a day after the former Massachusetts governor received the backing of Iowa's main newspaper.
In an open letter to Iowa voters, Dole - himself a former presidential candidate - said a great deal was at stake on January 3, when Iowa votes in the first nominating contest for the 2012 presidential election.
"A number of my friends are currently candidates seeking the GOP nomination. But the time has now come for us to decide who among them can defeat Barack Obama in 2012. I've made my decision, and I believe our best hope lies in Governor Mitt Romney," Dole wrote.
"As President, Mitt Romney will succeed in turning this country around," he wrote. "He rescued a flailing Winter Olympics when it was mired in financial scandal. He was an exceptional Governor of Massachusetts, who managed to both balance the state's budget and cut taxes while dealing with an overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature."
Though Dole's endorsement is not much of a surprise this election cycle, he went a different route in 2008 when Romney made his first bid for the nomination. Four years ago Romney got in some hot water when he said that Dole - who had written a letter supporting eventual Republican nominee Senator John McCain - was the last person he would want a letter from.
Dole was Senate majority leader at the same time that Newt Gingrich - one of Romney's main rivals in the quest to unseat Obama - was speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
But the two Republican congressional leaders were often at loggerheads, with Dole often frustrated by Gingrich's firebrand personality. An exasperated Dole once said to Gingrich: "You pay a penalty for leadership. If you don't want to pay the penalty, maybe you ought to find some other line of work."
With less than three weeks to go before Iowa holds the nation's first nominating contest, the Des Moines Register also endorsed Romney over the weekend.
Reporting By Deborah Charles; Editing by Vicki Allen