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Originally published October 11, 2012, 5:27 ET

WASHINGTON – Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney endorsed his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, this afternoon in a move that took Americans by surprise.

“I’ve taken every other possible position throughout this election, so I decided it was now time for me to take this one as well,” Mr. Romney said, explaining his decision to endorse his opponent.

Mr. Romney’s surprise endorsement caught Mr. Obama completely off-guard.  “I don’t know what to make of it.  I know Governor Romney has consistently changed his opinions throughout his various campaigns, but I thought that this was one position he would never take,” Mr. Obama said.

Party leaders were also taken aback.  House Speaker John Boehner and Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus both condemned the decision, while Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz applauded the decision.

“I welcome Mitt Romney to the good side and congratulate him on renouncing his own far-right positions and those of his party,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz said.

Rep. Paul Ryan, Mr. Romney’s running mate, also echoed Mr. Romney’s support for the Democratic ticket.  “I have always said that there is no light between Governor Romney and myself and that continues to remain the case.  I therefore strongly endorse the re-election of President Obama and Vice President Biden,” Mr. Ryan told reporters this afternoon when confronted with the news.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who back in 2009 declared that it was his objective to make Mr. Obama a one-term president, was last seen fleeing Washington to parts unknown.  Making no statement, he declined to answer reporters’ questions as he boarded a flight at Reagan National Airport.

The effect this has on polls remains to be seen.  While other major tracking polls showed Mr. Obama opening a significant lead over Mr. Romney, Rasmussen Reports showed Mr. Romney opening a 13-point lead over the president.  Polls have yet to come back from key battleground states.

UPDATE 5:43 ET:  Andrea Saul, a spokesperson for Mr. Romney, has indicated that Mr. Romney was misquoted and “of course does not support the re-election of President Obama.”  When confronted with video of Mr. Romney explicitly endorsing Mr. Obama’s re-election, she continued to insist it was a misquote and that Mr. Romney was taken out of context.

UPDATE 5:47 ET:  Following the announcement from the Romney campaign, Mr. Ryan has also withdrawn his endorsement of his Democratic rivals.

UPDATE 5:52 ET:  Mr. Priebus has now released a statement defending Mr. Romney.  “It is clear that the liberal media has once again distorted the truth.  Yes, Governor Romney endorsed Mr. Obama at one point, however they reported this before Governor Romney shook his Etch A Sketch and reset his position.  Everyone should know that whatever the governor says should not be taken seriously until he has shaken his Etch A Sketch at least twice.”

UPDATE 5:53 ET:  Democratic leaders have condemned Mr. Romney’s sudden change of positions.  “This sets a new standard even for Governor Romney.  Before it would take at least several months before he switched positions, now he has done so in a matter of minutes.  It once again proves why he is wholly unqualified to be president,” David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, told reporters.

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