Bloomberg News

Romney Targets Santorum for Attacks Following 3-State Wipeout

February 14, 2012

(For more campaign news, see ELECT.)

Feb. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Mitt Romney took aim at the rival who beat him in three Republican presidential contests in one day, berating Rick Santorum as a long-time Washington insider and lumping him with Newt Gingrich.

Romney, whose status as the frontrunner in the Republican was shaken by the Feb. 7 results, yesterday compared both Santorum and Gingrich with President Barack Obama, saying all three lacked experience in the “real economy.”

Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, and Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker, “spent a lot of time in Washington and during that time they spent a lot more money than they took in,” Romney said in Atlanta, Georgia.

Romney, who has stressed his experience as a private equity executive, went on the offensive after Santorum revived his candidacy with wins in Missouri’s non-binding primary and caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado.

The Romney attacks are set to continue today. His campaign has scheduled a conference call for reporters in which two Oklahoma state officials are to target Santorum’s “support of reckless spending” and “enthusiastic defense of earmarks,” according to a statement.

Earmarks refer to the federal funding of a lawmaker’s pet project. Oklahoma holds a primary on March 6, so-called Super Tuesday when 11 nomination contests are held.

Final Returns

In final returns from this week’s contests, Santorum ran 30 percentage points ahead of second-place finisher Romney in Missouri and beat him by 5 points in Colorado. In Minnesota, final results showed U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas in second place, 18 points behind Santorum and 10 points ahead of Romney. Gingrich, who wasn’t on the Missouri ballot, ran fourth in Minnesota and third in Colorado, 1 point ahead of Paul.

Santorum now has four victories in the nomination race to three for Romney and one for Gingrich.

“We definitely are the campaign right now with the momentum,” Santorum said yesterday on CNN. “We’re doing very, very well raising money,” with about $250,000 raised online last night, he said.

‘Wonderful Gift’

He campaigned yesterday in Texas, which holds its primary April 3. Stopping at a chapel in McKinney, he referred to his also-ran status in the Republican race before his victories this week, telling a group of area pastors: “The gift of being underestimated is a wonderful gift.”

Romney, at his event in Georgia, told about 300 people that “Senator Santorum and Speaker Gingrich, they are the very Republicans who acted like Democrats” when they were in Congress on such issues as federal spending and earmarks.

“And when Republicans act like Democrats, they lose,” he said.

Santorum has been pressing much the same case against Romney that the former Massachusetts governor is making against him.

Speaking to supporters at a victory celebration Feb. 7 in St. Charles, Missouri, Santorum said Romney “has the same positions as Barack Obama” on issues including health-care policy.

Alternative to Obama

“I don’t stand here to claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney,” Santorum said. “I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama.”

As Romney arrived in Georgia yesterday, he expressed confidence in his campaign’s future and sought to discount Santorum’s wins.

“We think we can beat Senator Santorum where we compete head to head in an aggressive way, and we obviously didn’t do that in Colorado or Minnesota,” he told reporters,

Romney won both states in his failed 2008 bid for the Republican nomination.

Romney spoke at a warehouse in Gingrich’s home state. Georgia also holds a primary on Super Tuesday.

Homemaker Stacy Ro, 31, said she thought it was a smart move for Romney to campaign early in the state Gingrich served for 20 years as a congressman.

“I don’t think Newt has the home-court advantage here at all, I don’t think anybody does,” said Elizabeth Garcia, 35, a teacher, homemaker and poet, as she stood in line waiting for Romney’s arrival at Bottega Stone, an importer of the stone used in upscale countertops. “Newt made a lot of enemies here over the years.”

Gingrich plans to campaign for two days in Georgia next week.

Mormon Factor

Romney supporters dismissed Romney’s defeats this week as a fluke; one saw it as a sign of religious bigotry.

Some voters “just don’t like him because he’s Mormon,” said Bill Sanders, 62, a retiree from suburban Canton, Georgia, outside Romney’s Atlanta rally.

Still, the results highlighted Romney’s difficulty in gaining support from conservative Republicans who are focused on issues such as banning abortion. At the same time, Santorum’s new strength may aid Romney in a drawn out nomination fight. A revitalized Santorum campaign and Gingrich may keep splitting the anti-Romney vote.

Romney had been the clear front-runner in the race after easily winning Florida’s Jan. 31 primary and Nevada’s Feb. 4 caucuses.

Ohio Focus

Gingrich didn’t mention Santorum or Romney by name during a speech yesterday at Jergens Inc., a closely held company in Cleveland that manufactures products such as specialty fasteners. Gingrich also spent Feb. 7 in Ohio, which has begun early voting ahead of its Super Tuesday primary.

“We’re in the race all the way,” he said on CNN.

In a chat with a Georgia talk radio host, he deflected a question about his poor showing in the Feb. 7 votes.

“It was a really bad day for Mitt Romney,” Gingrich told Rusty Humphries. “He’s the guy that’s supposed to be gathering up all these delegates. He took a drubbing yesterday.”

Romney, Santorum and Gingrich are to address activists tomorrow at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. The reception they receive will be closely monitored, especially following the Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado results.

Paul declined a speaking invitation from CPAC. His son, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, is to speak to the group today.

--With assistance from Mark Niquette in Cleveland, and Lisa Lerer, Catherine Dodge, Kristin Jensen and Roger Runningen in Washington. Editors: Don Frederick, Robin Meszoly

To contact the reporters on this story: Margaret Newkirk in Atlanta at mnewkirk@bloomberg.net; Julie Bykowicz in Washington at jbykowicz@bloomberg.net

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


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