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'08 candidates court governors for support, networks

WASHINGTON -- Seven governors have made endorsements early in the 2008 White House race and pressure is growing for others to choose soon, bringing along their networks of donors and activists.

Their support can prove influential, some analysts say, because the most effective governors have an election-tested base of motivated voters and fund-raisers, and the ability to help sway undecided primary voters.

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, has the support of three governors. Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, has the backing of two.

Two former GOP governors -- Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas -- each has picked up the endorsement of one governor. Governor Bill Richardson, Democrat of New Mexico, is in the race himself.

The National Governors Association is holding its winter meeting in Washington this weekend. The competition for the governors' support is good strategy, said Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Democrat of Kansas.

"Governors in their states know where the votes are and know how to produce a winning majority. That's a pretty good ally to have when you head into someone's back yard," Sebelius said.

The endorsements are just one piece of a long and expensive race that has attracted a crowded field in both parties and a quick push for campaign money.

"I've talked to a number of governors," Huckabee said. "Many of them are not quite ready to make their move, kind of waiting to see how things shake out."

Huckabee recently announced the endorsement of Governor Mike Rounds of South Dakota, a Republican.

Among Republicans, McCain has the support of Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Jon Huntsman Jr. of Utah, and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota. Romney was endorsed by Matt Blunt of Missouri.

Among Democrats, Obama has the backing of Rod Blagojevich of Illinois and Tim Kaine of Virginia.

Obama made a campaign swing across the country last week to raise money for his two-week-old candidacy and build his reputation nationally.

In response to a request from Obama, federal election regulators said the presidential candidates may solicit contributions for a general election campaign even if they later decide to take public money for the race.

If a majority of the six members of the Federal Election Commission support the opinion, candidates would have another incentive to seek double contributions this early in the presidential election cycle. Any candidate who later chooses to accept public money would have to refund money raised exclusively for the general election.

In addition to formal endorsements, candidates can be helped by governors through quiet lobbying and public appearances.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican of California, recently took the stage with McCain on an environmental issue and said the lawmaker was a "great senator," a "very good friend," and "a great national leader."

The governor did not answer a question about whether he would endorse McCain.

In Alabama, Governor Bob Riley praised Romney in public. "This guy is the quintessential candidate. He's nice looking. He's articulate. He's eminently successful," said Riley, a Republican. But he held back an endorsement.