Bloomberg News

Romney Fights Against Santorum Threat as Minnesota Vote Looms

February 10, 2012

(For more 2012 campaign news, see ELECT.)

Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Mitt Romney sought to fend off an added challenge in the Republican presidential race, opening a coordinated assault against Rick Santorum to combat the looming potential for a drawn-out nomination contest.

Amid signs that Santorum could make a strong showing in tonight’s Minnesota caucuses, the Romney campaign turned its attention from Newt Gingrich, long seen as its toughest rival, and set its sights on the former Pennsylvania senator who won Iowa’s party caucuses.

In an interview on a local Minnesota radio station yesterday, Romney accused Santorum of increasing government spending by allocating federal funds for local projects known as earmarks.

“His approach was not effective,” Romney told WCCO radio. “If we’re going to change Washington, we can’t just keep on sending the same people there in different chairs.”

Santorum struck back, saying Romney’s support for a Massachusetts health-care plan made him an unacceptable standard bearer for the party.

“Governor Romney on that vitally important issue of Obamacare is the weakest candidate we can put up,” he told reporters in Golden, Colorado. “The issue will be about Mitt Romney’s credibility, not about Barack Obama’s record.”

Three Contests

Contests in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota today will award none of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the party’s 2012 presidential nomination. Instead, delegates will be selected at district conventions in all three states, scheduled for April.

Still, a victory today would provide a much needed boost for Santorum’s struggling campaign, which has seen its support drop since defeating Romney by 34 votes in the lead-off Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3. Strong support for Santorum could also revive lingering questions about Romney’s backing among rank- and-file fiscal conservatives and voters concerned about matters such as abortion, gay marriage and other social issues.

Though Romney won by 14 points in the Jan. 31 Florida primary and a majority in the Feb. 4 Nevada caucuses, evangelical Christian voters have questioned his record on abortion and gay marriage.

Santorum, a Catholic with an anti-abortion record, is working to capitalize on those concerns in Minnesota, where social and fiscal conservatives have become increasingly powerful within the Republican Party in recent years. He has spent the bulk of his time over the past week in the state, while Romney, Gingrich and U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas campaigned in Florida and Nevada.

Religious Freedom

Campaigning in Colorado yesterday, Romney attempted to blunt Santorum’s efforts by injecting a fresh appeal to social conservatives into his standard stump speech.

Speaking before thousands gathered in a high school gym in Centennial, Romney seized on a decision by the Obama administration requiring hospitals to purchase health insurance that covers contraception, a position at odds with the doctrine of many Catholic hospitals and universities.

“This is a violation of conscience,” Romney said. “We must have a president who is willing to protect America’s first right, our right to worship God.”

Earlier in the day, his campaign circulated a petition posted on its website accusing the Obama administration of attacking religious liberty.

‘Conscience-Stifling’ Rule

The remarks followed an opinion piece by Romney in the Washington Examiner in which he vowed to immediately overturn the “liberty- and conscience-stifling regulation” if he became president.

White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the regulation, telling reporters the administration will “implement this policy in a way that ensures that women have access to preventive care, but tries to allay the concerns of these institutions because we take very seriously people’s religious beliefs and their objections.”

Romney carried Minnesota in the 2008 presidential primaries, yet aides say the dynamics of this race are different. Four years ago, Romney ran as the fiscal and social conservative alterative to Arizona Senator John McCain, who won his party’s nomination. Today, he is viewed as the establishment pick, after gaining endorsements from prominent party leaders and elected officials.

Supporters downplayed expectations in the state yesterday, where historically low voter turnout makes results hard to predict.

No Pawlenty Forecast

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who quit his own bid for the party’s presidential nomination, wouldn’t forecast a Romney victory in the state, saying voters “gravitate toward the most conservative candidate -- real or perceived.”

The campaign canceled a stop in the Minneapolis area yesterday, denying it was ceding ground to Santorum by citing travel conflicts.

As Romney addressed voters across Colorado, his team deployed Pawlenty to challenge Santorum’s credentials among fiscal conservatives.

“Rick has been holding himself out as the perfect conservative or the only real conservative in the race,” Pawlenty said. “Well, if you look at his record, it’s not a perfect conservative record by a long shot.”

Gingrich, making his first appearance since the Nevada caucuses, associated his efforts to slow Romney’s march to the nomination with those of rivals Santorum and Paul.

“The three of us will get as many delegates as he does,” Gingrich told reporters in Golden, Colorado. “Between us, we’re in the process of stopping the front-runner.”

--With assistance from Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Mark Silva in Washington. Editors: Mark Silva, Jim Rubin.

To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Lerer in Grand Junction, Colorado at llerer@bloomberg.net; Jennifer Oldham in Golden, Colorado at joldham1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net


Burger King's Young Buns
LIMITED-TIME OFFER SUBSCRIBE NOW

(enter your email)
(enter up to 5 email addresses, separated by commas)

Max 250 characters

 
blog comments powered by Disqus