Illinois U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk is throwing his support behind Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential primary. The Illinois Republican said it's important to pick the most electable, economically conservative candidate.
Kirk said his endorsement could be a factor for Romney in Illinois.
"Because it looks like we will have a pretty big battle for the Republican primary across many states, we're now going to have a battle in Illinois. Illinois normally had a primary that was too late. But this year I think the voice of Illinois voters is going to matter," he said.
With Romney and other candidates, including former House speaker Newt Gingrich, continuing to move up and down in polls, the contest to win the Republican nomination will take longer than expected, Kirk said.
The Illinois primary is March 20, almost three months after the nation's first caucus in Iowa.
"Initially we thought that the primary would be over largely by the end of January or the beginning of February," Kirk said. "Now, if you look at the numbers, I think the Republican contest will likely last at least through the first week of April, meaning that the March 20 Illinois primary will have a critical role in deciding who our nominee is and who our next president of the United States will be."
The Republican senator said Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, was ready to compete in Illinois if that happens. Romney donated to Kirk's campaign during his successful run for Senate last year.
He said Romney would cut spending, promote economic growth and repeal the health care overhaul championed by President Barack Obama but attacked by Republicans.
Obama was vulnerable in the Chicago suburbs as well as central and southern Illinois due to his handling of the economy, Kirk said. A Democrat-drawn map of new U.S. House districts "has worked out far better than the other side thought," Kirk said, adding that several current Republican congressmen would not battle each other as expected when the map was announced.
Republicans running for Congress next year will be able to run against Obama by pointing to the economy, Kirk said.
"The record shows that he inherited a terrible situation and then made it worse," Kirk said.
Kirk touted Romney's work with Democrats and independents, as well as his experience as the head of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Kirk said he hoped his endorsement would also help in the Quad Cities area, which is split between Illinois and Iowa, for the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus.
Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford, chairman of Romney's Illinois campaign, said the campaign has been active in the state since last summer. Romney has collected endorsements from U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, and former House speaker Dennis Hastert.
Asked about Gingrich, Kirk complimented the former speaker but hinted that his strengths could also be weaknesses.
"I worked with him as a staffer and think he's brilliant, a great historian, very experienced on many issues," Kirk said. "But I will say, in my personal experience with him, he has five big ideas a day, and four of them are good."