WASHINGTON (UPI) — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio locked up eight new congressional endorsements and an infusion of cash contributions, bolstering his bid for the Republican presidential nomination and pushing him ahead of the pack for political backing.

Former Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum threw his support behind Rubio after the former Kentucky senator announced he was dropping his bid Wednesday. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey and Rep. Glenn Thompson, both from Pennsylvania, and Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia are expected to endorse Rubio on Thursday.

They join endorsements from Reps. Steve Womack and Rick Crawford, both Arkansas Republicans, Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.

Santorum made the announcement on Fox News’ On the Record, saying he spoke with Rubio for more than an hour before making his decision.

“I don’t endorse lightly,” he told Greta Van Susteren. “He’s a tremendously gifted young man and he’s a leader, a born leader.”

Rubio’s campaign said there have been more than $2 million online contributions since his third-place showing at the Iowa caucuses. The contributions were mostly small donations, but also included some larger ones.

The political blessings vault Rubio ahead of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the so-called “endorsement primary.”

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