U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster is putting his support behind Mitt Romney for president in the upcoming primary.

While Pennsylvania native son and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum is mounting a formidable campaign in the state for the presidential nomination, Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, told the HeraldStandard.com editorial board on Friday that the former governor of Massachusetts has the needed executive experience to divert a looming financial crisis.

“I think it is time for the party to come together, and it looks like Romney is going to win the (overall) nomination,” Shuster said.

According to the latest Franklin and Marshall poll, Santorum is leading Romney by 2 percentage points in Pennsylvania.

Before the April 24 Pennsylvania primary, the four Republican presidential candidates will square off in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Wisconsin, where Romney is leading Santorum by more than 10 percentage points in the Maryland and Wisconsin races, according to a recent Rasmussen poll.

Shuster said that prior to announcing his choice, he contacted Santorum to explain his reasoning for the endorsement of his challenger.

“(Santorum) is a fine American and he represented Pennsylvania very ably,” said Shuster. “(Santorum) and I are together on 98 percent of the issues.”

Shuster said to draw out the campaign until the Republican National Convention in August would be hurtful to the party.

With a business background and executive experience, Romney is the best person to take on President Barack Obama in the November election, said Shuster.

“(Romney has) run a state and he knows how to govern,” he said. “Mitt Romney has had a career of running businesses, especially failing companies and has turned many around and saved them.”

As the governor of Massachusetts, Romney worked with a Democratic Legislature and produced a balanced budget.

While his Massachusetts health-care program has been compared to the president’s controversial federal health-care program, Shuster said that Romney has stated he would repeal “Obamacare,” if elected.

“Most Republicans, like I believe, is that health care is a states’ issue,” he said. “That’s what Massachusetts did. It was not forced on Pennsylvanians.”

The 2010 federal health-care reform legislation requires people to maintain minimal health insurance or face a penalty. It is currently being challenged by several states before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Shuster foresees conservatives and independents rallying around Romney as he provides a “stark” difference to the Obama administration.

“America needs an executive that can make tough decisions,” he said.

While the economy is at the top of voters’ priority list, health care, national security and other matters of concerns will determine the outcome of the general election.

Shuster said Romney has the needed qualities to be the next president.

Shuster, too, will appear on the April 24 ballot as a candidate to retain his House seat and as a delegate candidate for the GOP convention.

The incumbent faces no opposition for his seat on the Republican ballot and no Democrat seeking its party’s nomination.

Shuster was elected to the 9th Congressional District seat in 2001.

The lawmaker is one of nine candidates seeking to fill three delegate positions for the 9th Congressional District.

Of the 72 delegates to represent Pennsylvania at the GOP convention, 59 are directly elected by voters.

Each congressional district is allocated three delegates, with one bonus delegated added to the five districts that have best supported GOP candidates in the past for years. Alternate delegate candidates also will be on the April 24 ballot.

According to the Republican State Committee rules, the delegate candidates run at large within the districts and are not committed to support any particular presidential candidate.

In June, the Republican State Committee will meet to choose 10 at-large delegates to attend the national convention, and they, too, are not required to support any one candidate. Also, three party leaders, the national committeeman, national committeewoman and the chairman of Pennsylvania’s Republican Party round out the 72 delegates.

For instance, should Pennsylvania voters give Santorum the popular vote, delegates could go to the convention and cast their vote for Romney.

“Each delegate has the right to make their own decision,” said Shuster.

In most presidential elections, the Pennsylvania primary outcome has had little or no impact on the nomination.

This year, said Shuster, the state will play a key role.

Currently, Romney has 568 delegates; Santorum, 273; former U.S. Speaker Newt Gingrich, 135 and U.S. Sen. Ron Paul, 50 delegates.

In the three primaries to be held Tuesday, a total of 98 delegates are up for grabs.

“It is going to be exciting,” he said.

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