US: Romney works to fend off Santorum challenge

Last Updated: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 - 12:10

Grand Junction: Sensing a possible threat, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney emphasised his social conservative credentials on Monday and criticised rival Rick Santorum as an ineffective senator who previously supported pork-barrel projects as he worked to fend off an unexpected challenge in the next states to vote.

Santorum countered that Romney "should not be our nominee" because he was "dead wrong on the most important issue of the day" when, as governor, he signed a health care overhaul into law in Massachusetts.

The two sparred from afar one day before Republicans in Colorado and Minnesota hold nominating caucuses, the latest contests in what`s become almost a plodding race for the GOP nomination compared to the rapid-fire campaign of last month. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul also are competing but neither was expected to have a breakout performance in either state.

Romney, who won both states four years ago, hopes to extend his winning streak though advisers acknowledged that a first-place finish would be more likely to come by in Colorado than in Minnesota. The Republican Party in Minnesota has become more conservative in recent years and Santorum`s strong conservative positions on social issues could resonate with the state`s strong contingent of evangelical voters.

Santorum, a Catholic, has a strong anti-abortion record and consistently focuses on the issue. Romney, who once supported abortion rights, has struggled to win over those voters. But in a sign that he`s trying to do just that, Romney`s campaign on Monday rolled out a petition focusing on religious liberty. The move was intended to challenge a recent Obama administration decision to require hospitals to distribute free birth control, a policy at odds with the religious teachings followed at many Catholic health care facilities.

Romney said the policy forced Catholics to distribute "abortive pills”. And he blasted the Obama administration`s role in a Supreme Court case that decided last month that ministers could be fired without regard to civil rights laws.
"This administration argued before the Supreme Court that a church should not be able to determine who their ministers are, that government should decide who qualifies," Romney said at an evening rally near Denver.

Clearly mindful of the shift in Minnesota, Santorum has been working that state and conservative areas of Colorado aggressively in the past two weeks while Romney campaigned in Florida and Nevada and scored back-to-back victories. It was clear on Monday that Santorum saw an opportunity to rise in the GOP race.

In an appearance across the street from the highly regarded Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, Santorum assailed Romney with gusto and said that making him the nominee would be "a devastating thing" for Republicans who want to see President Barack Obama lose in the fall.

He also complained that Romney was running an attack machine — and turning it on him. "Any time someone challenges Governor Romney, Governor Romney goes out and instead of talking about what he`s for ... he just simply goes out and attacks and tries to destroy," Santorum said.

At his own rally on the eve of the contests, Santorum urged supporters to redouble their efforts.

"Your charge is to go out and talk to folks in the next 24 hours," he said. "Talk to them about a candidate who understands what`s at stake in this election."

To squelch any rise by Santorum, Romney`s campaign spent the second day in a row holding a round of conference calls hosted by surrogates and issuing a spate of news releases accusing Santorum of seeking earmarks when he represented Pennsylvania in the Senate.

Romney, himself, weighed in during an interview with WCCO radio in Minneapolis, saying of Santorum: "His policies are, in my view, those of many Republicans in Congress who went along with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling, to allowing earmarks and to growing the size of federal government to a level that is frankly choking off the capacity of our economy to grow at the rate it should."

"I think his approach was not effective and, frankly, I happen to believe if we`re going to change Washington we can`t just keep on sending the same people there in different chairs."

At the same time, allies also worked to lower expectations for a Romney victory in Minnesota. The state is unpredictable given its small, conservative electorate with a strong evangelical Christian component. And even though Romney won in Minnesota four years ago, advisers point out that he ran as the conservative alternative to John McCain, who then was the front-runner and eventually became the nominee in 2008.

"Mitt will be competitive but it`s hard to tell who`s going to be at the top of the pack," former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, a Romney supporter, said in a conference call with reporters. He said Minnesota GOP caucus-goers "tend to gravitate to the perceived most conservative candidate" and that Romney was "not perfect but conservative”.

Romney campaigned in Minnesota a week ago but, in a sign he didn`t expect to win, scrapped an appearance at a Minneapolis rally on Monday morning in favour of campaigning in Colorado.

Asked if he expects to win in Minnesota, Romney told WCCO radio, "I sure hope so”.

In the evening, Romney maintained a front-runner`s posture and targeted only Obama at a rally in Centennial, Colo.

"He said he deserves a second term. Can you believe that?" Romney asked a crowd of almost 3,000 gathered at the Arapahoe High School. That was in response to Obama, who said Sunday during a nationally televised interview, "I deserve a second term, but we`re not done."

As he had earlier in the day, Romney emphasised the "protection of life" as a core American value during the portion of his usual campaign speech that focuses on America`s national hymns.

In a similar vein, Romney told conservative radio host Scott Hennen that he didn`t think The Susan G Komen for the Cure breast cancer charity should continue giving money to Planned Parenthood because it provides abortion services. The charity had announced it would cut funds to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening, then dropped those plans after a public backlash last week.

Gingrich, who also campaigned in Colorado on Monday, attacked Romney`s record in Massachusetts and said he "basically accommodated liberal Democrats”. He added that Romney isn`t a person "who goes in there with a force of will" to change the status quo.

Gingrich has little organisation in any of the states that vote this week and is instead looking ahead to the spate of Southern states that vote on Super Tuesday, March 06.

The former House speaker told hundreds at a rally in Bloomington, Minnesota, that the nation needs a stark choice for the fall and Romney doesn`t offer one.

"This is the thing that is very hard for the Republican establishment to understand: You cannot stop the decay without very serious difficult, political conflict in Washington," Gingrich said.

Speaking at a rally before more than 1,500 supporters at the Minneapolis Convention Centre, Paul called for ending US military involvement around the world and limiting the spending and influence of the federal government. He said he`s called dangerous by his critics because he wants to shake up the status quo.

Bureau Report



First Published: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 - 12:10

comments powered by Disqus