LAS VEGAS — Donald Trump on Thursday endorsed Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination, a move with little likely impact on voting but rich with billionaire-meets-millionaire symbolism.
"Mitt is tough, he's smart, he's sharp. He's not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country," Trump said at an event staged in his own Las Vegas hotel, with Romney and his wife, Ann, standing beside him.
"There are some things you just can't imagine happening in your life," said Romney. "This is one of them."
The sideshow — which included the hint of a double-cross to Newt Gingrich and Trump-size hype — dominated the campaign two days before the Nevada caucuses, where polls show Romney headed toward a Saturday win.
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Yet Trump's backing may do more harm than good.
For direct impact on voters, a Pew Research Center survey last month found 20 percent of likely Republican voters said a Trump endorsement would make them less likely to support a candidate, while 13 percent said it would make them more likely to support the candidate.
The vast majority — 64 percent — said it would make no difference.
For symbolism, it could help Gingrich underline his argument that Romney is the choice of the moneyed Republican establishment at a time when Romney was just starting to make inroads into the grassroots, against-the-establishment tea party movement. Forbes estimates Trump's net worth at $2 billion. Romney's wealth is reported to be about $250 million.
In Florida, Romney took 41 percent of the tea party vote, up from 25 percent in South Carolina and 19 percent in Iowa.
"Recent developments ... helped clarify this race in dramatic way," Gingrich said at a Las Vegas rally Thursday as news of Trump's endorsement spread. "We are really running with people power versus money power.
"Let me just say first of all that I like hiring people," Gingrich added, a doubled-edged contrast aimed at both Romney and Trump. Romney last month explained his support for competition in buying health insurance as a way to cut costs by saying, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." Trump's signature line from his reality TV series is, "You're fired."
"They both like firing people," said an instant web ad from the Democratic National Committee.
Gingrich apparently expected Trump's endorsement himself. Gingrich campaign sources told several news organizations the night before that he was going to get Trump's backing.
Gingrich and his staff appeared surprised by the turn of events Thursday, as Gingrich said during a factory tour that he was amazed at the level of interest in Trump and a spokesman shrugged his shoulders when asked about Trump's plans.
"Donald Trump is the only person who knows what Donald Trump is going to do." spokesman R.C.Hammond said.
In the race for Saturday's Nevada caucuses, a poll by the Las Vegas Review Journal found Romney with the support of 45 percent of likely attendees, Gingrich with 25 percent, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum with 11 percent and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas with 9 percent.
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