As Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum intensified their push for votes in Illinois, President Barack Obama used a fundraising trip yesterday to his hometown of Chicago to poke fun at the contentious Republican race.
At a fundraiser in Chicago, Obama mentioned another president who, like him, adopted Illinois as his home state, Abraham Lincoln. “Welcome to the Land of Lincoln,” he said of the Republicans seeking to run against him. “Maybe some Lincoln will rub off on them while they are here.”
Ahead of the state’s March 20 primary, Romney deployed his top surrogate to paint Santorum as unqualified for the White House. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, appearing on Romney’s behalf in suburban Chicago, also told several hundred students and others that their votes next week could be decisive.
“Governor Romney needs to show our party and our country that he’s not only competing everywhere, but that he can win everywhere,” he said at Elmhurst College. “Illinois, you are going to turn the corner for Mitt Romney on Tuesday.”
Santorum, speaking to reporters in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, predicted a strong Illinois showing.
“We’re going to do well here, certainly better than anyone expected,” he said.
Both Santorum, 53, and Romney, 65, were scheduled to campaign in the state today.
Romney yesterday won the endorsement of the Chicago Tribune, the state’s largest newspaper.
Obama often points to Lincoln as one of his role models, and, after invoking his name for the quip at the fundraiser, he praised the 16th president’s use of the federal government to advance transportation, education and scientific projects.
“Lincoln, the first Republican president, knew that if we as a nation through our federal government didn’t act to facilitate these things, then they likely wouldn’t happen, and as a result, we’d all be worse off,” Obama said at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel in Chicago’s downtown.
The president took note of the Republican campaign attack ads airing in the state, saying they aren’t exactly in keeping with Lincoln’s call for “appealing to the better angels of our nature.”
Romney made a morning appearance at a pancake restaurant in Rosemont, Illinois, before flying to Puerto Rico ahead of its March 18 nominating contest and in his remarks targeted Obama.
“This president has failed us when it comes to gasoline and energy,” Romney said.
Christie, in his appearance, argued that Romney’s Republican rivals -- former Pennsylvania Senator Santorum, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas -- should be ruled out because they have spent time in Congress.
“Let’s be very leery, very wary of sending another member of Congress to the White House,” Christie said, referring to Obama’s service as a senator from Illinois before winning the White House.
Unlike Romney, who served a term as governor of Massachusetts, his challengers “don’t know the first thing most of the time about using executive authority,” Christie said.
Romney’s campaign has also begun airing a television ad in the Chicago market that calls Santorum an “economic lightweight.”
Santorum, responding to Christie’s criticism of congressional resumes, said such claims are “funny” and pointed to Romney’s lack of foreign policy experience.
He repeatedly mentioned Romney’s financial advantage and said his opponent has “no vision for the country that’s positive.”
Santorum campaigned earlier yesterday in Missouri, which holds caucuses today, and criticized Romney.
“We have to have a candidate that’s going to energize our base, get them excited -- just like we did in 2010 -- someone who’s authentic, someone who hasn’t taken every side of every issue throughout their political career,” he said at the Main Street Music Hall in Osage Beach, Missouri.
Santorum contrasted his own Senate record as an anti- abortion activist with Romney’s as an abortion-rights supporter.
“At the end of his governor’s term, when he decided to run for president, he had a conversion,” Santorum said. “We don’t need someone who had convenient conversion experiences on a whole host of issues.”
Romney and his allies are dominating television advertising in Illinois, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising.
Ads from Romney’s campaign and Restore Our Future, a political action committee backing him, appeared 1,773 times on Illinois broadcast stations through March 15, CMAG data show.
Restore Our Future also supplied 435 ads to stations in Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri that reach some Illinois residents. All together, the ads from Romney and Restore Our Future cost $2 million to air.
Red White and Blue Fund, a political action committee backing Santorum, began its Illinois advertising on March 15 with six ads in the Rockford area.
Obama aimed to raise more than $5 million for his re- election bid in yesterday’s fundraising trip that ended in Atlanta and included a private gathering at the home of film actor and producer Tyler Perry.
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