Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's shaky standing with conservative voters continues to trouble him in battleground Virginia, where the four Republican U.S. Senate candidates are reluctant to embrace their party's soon-to-be anointed leader.
None of the four Senate candidates embraced Romney during the four months of presidential primaries and caucuses. And when asked again during a weekend debate whether they would support the man who will face President Obama this fall, none offered a resounding endorsement.
Former Gov. George Allen, the front-runner in the Senate race, was complimentary of Romney. His three opponents -- pastor E.W. Jackson, Del. Bob Marshall of Manassas and Tea Party leader Jamie Radtke -- didn't even go that far, even though Romney is virtually certain to be their party's nominee.
The reluctance to embrace Romney reflects the Senate candidates' expectations that their own primary on June 12 will be dominated by the same conservatives who refused to back Romney during the presidential contests because they don't think he's conservative enough, said Stephen Farnsworth, political science professor at the University of Mary Washington.
"Mitt Romney's Republican nomination is the very definition of a shotgun marriage," Farnsworth said. "The most activist Republicans, the most committed Republicans, were not very enthusiastic and last weekend's Republican debate in Virginia reminds us that they still aren't very enthusiastic."
The Senate candidates' concerns about Romney extend beyond the primary to the fall campaign. Romney is the one candidate who can't take on Obama over the issue of health care reform because Romney proposed similar reforms as governor of Massachusetts, they said.
"I think it's very disconcerting that the one person in the Republican Party that has ever mandated health insurance, we're going to nominate to challenge Barack Obama," Radtke said Monday. "The one issue that has brought Republicans, conservatives, libertarians and independents together against Obama is the health care law, and we're taking it off the table."
Allen, favored to win the nomination and to face Democrat Tim Kaine in the fall, is alone in at least welcoming Romney to the battleground state.
"George Allen is happy to have Mitt Romney in Virginia," Allen spokeswoman Emily Davis said. "Joining forces we can defeat the Obama-Kaine agenda."
Marshall said he doesn't know if he would campaign with Romney should he win the Senate nomination, but he wouldn't work against him.
"Whether I want him to be the nominee or not," Marshall said, "I'm going to run with the person the nominee is."