Bloomberg News

Romney Camp Questions Santorum’s Competence as Focus Moves to Ohio Primary

March 04, 2012

Rick Santorum at his primary election night party on Feb. 28, 2012, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Photographer: Eric Gay/AP

Rick Santorum at his primary election night party on Feb. 28, 2012, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Photographer: Eric Gay/AP

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s advisers questioned rival Rick Santorum’s competence and electability and Santorum criticized Romney for his health-care policies as Massachusetts governor ahead of contests held March 6 on so-called Super Tuesday.

As the candidates competed in Ohio yesterday, the Romney campaign said Santorum’s failure to qualify for some of the 66 Ohio delegates up for grabs is a symbol of broader troubles, arguing that it shows the former Pennsylvania senator has a disorganized campaign and couldn’t compete with President Barack Obama in the general election.

It’s “a failure that goes not only to delegates he won’t win, but to organizational deficiencies that should give Republican voters great pause as we get ready to face President Obama,” Romney adviser Ben Ginsberg told reporters in a conference call. “What that means is that that basic organizational test that you’re going to have to have to battle President Obama is a test that Rick Santorum and his campaign have flunked.”

Ohio officials said last week that Santorum, 53, may be ineligible to win 18 of the Ohio delegates because he failed to file full slates in some congressional districts. He’s also ineligible for at least some of the delegates at stake March 6 in Virginia, where he didn’t meet requirements to be listed on the ballot, and in Tennessee.

Super Tuesday

Taken together, Ginsberg said, Santorum has failed to qualify for 16 percent of the 391 delegates who will be bound to vote for a particular candidate by the results. Ohio is one of the 11 Super Tuesday states that together control 466 delegates; to win the nomination a candidate needs 1,144 delegates out of the 2,286 that will be awarded nationwide.

Romney yesterday won a non-binding straw poll in Washington state’s Republican caucuses.

Santorum, campaigning in Blue Ash, Ohio, didn’t respond to a reporter’s shouted question about the delegate situation. His spokesman Hogan Gidley said last week that Santorum’s campaign was nothing more than “a small effort focused on Iowa” when Ohio’s delegate filings were due in December and that momentum has since shifted in his direction.

Close Ohio Race

“This race is going to be close in Ohio,” Santorum told about 400 voters at a hotel in the Cincinnati suburb. “We are going to be outspent, but we’ve been outspent in every race so far. It won’t make a difference if you make a difference.”

Polls show a tight race between Romney and Santorum, a swing state that Obama, a Democrat, won in 2008 and Republican President George W. Bush won in 2004 in the general elections.

Santorum said Romney’s support as governor for Massachusetts health-care legislation that, like the U.S. law enacted in 2010, requires everyone to buy medical insurance would damage the party in the general election.

“He is uniquely unqualified to go against Barack Obama in the biggest issue in this election,” Santorum said.

Santorum pointed to a 2009 opinion piece Romney wrote for USA Today in which he said the “lessons we learned in Massachusetts could help Washington” find a solution to the health-care problem.

Romney, 64, has said as president he would repeal the national health-care legislation and let states resolve the question of insurance coverage.

Abortion Rights

Santorum also emphasized his social conservative credentials, saying Romney has been inconsistent on those issues. Romney, for instance, once supported abortion rights and now opposes them.

“We need someone who has a track record of standing up for what they believe, not changing positions as the climate changes,” Santorum said.

He appeared with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, an advocacy group for social conservatives who oppose abortion rights that hasn’t endorsed a candidate.

“We’ve got to elect a candidate who understands the connection between our economy and our family,” Perkins said of Santorum.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who switched his endorsement from Romney to Santorum, also appeared with the former senator and said he would “rally our conservative base like no one else will.”

Economic Message

Romney is pushing an economy-focused message, particularly in hard-hit states like Ohio, whose economic health compared with other states fell 6.3 percent between the first quarter of 2009, when Obama took office, and the third quarter of 2011, the most recent data available, according to the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States index.

“We’ve got good people running for office, but you know these other guys have spent their life in government,” Romney told more than 1,000 voters at a rally on a warehouse floor in Beavercreek. “With our economy in distress, with jobs so badly needed, with incomes having gone down, we need a president who knows the economy to fix the economy.”

Romney also sharpened his position on the Sarbanes-Oxley financial accounting overhaul enacted in the wake of the Enron Corp. (ENRQ) scandal. Asked by a voter if he planned to “basically repeal” it, along with the health-care bill and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulation measure, Romney responded, “Yes.”

Romney has previously said he would seek to amend the Sarbanes-Oxley law to make it less onerous for smaller firms, and in a Jan. 26 debate in Jacksonville, Florida, he called U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s proposal to repeal it along with the health-care and financial regulation bills “pretty much spot-on.”

Modern Law

“By the way, when I get rid of Obamacare and I get rid of Dodd-Frank and I get rid of Sarbanes-Oxley, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to have any law or any regulation,” Romney said in Beavercreek. “It means I want to make sure it’s modern, it’s updated, it goes after the bad guys, but it also encourages the good guys.”

Romney and Santorum are the two leading contenders in a Republican race that includes former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Representative Ron Paul of Texas. The March 6 contests include primaries in Oklahoma and Tennessee, where polls give Santorum the edge, and in Georgia, Gingrich’s home state where he leads in surveys.

To contact the reporters on this story: Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Washington at jdavis159@bloomberg.net; John McCormick in Chicago at jmccormick16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net


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