Romney, Santorum hit the road with eyes toward Super Tuesday

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 29, 2012 

Rick Santorum kisses his daughter, Elizabeth, after she introduced him at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.

AP PHOTO/MARK HUMPHREY

TOLEDO, Ohio — Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum took their bruising battle for the Republican presidential nomination nationwide Wednesday, heading to states crucial to their Super Tuesday chances next week.

A day after wining primaries in Michigan and Arizona, Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, offered a scripted stump speech to a polite, supportive crowd of about 200 people who took up a small part of a huge Toledo warehouse.

He stuck to economic themes, took no questions, and contrasted himself with President Barack Obama, largely ignoring his GOP rivals.

"This is really a campaign about differences," Romney said. Obama, he charged, is: out of ideas, he's out of excuses and in 2012 we're going to make sure he's out of office," Romney said.

He offered only a brief, veiled criticism of his rivals: Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Don't elect someone whose "resume looks like his (Obama's) resume, who's never really run anything." Obama was a U.S. senator from Illinois for four years before becoming president in 2009.

Both Romney and Santorum claimed to be buoyed by Tuesday's results. Romney won Arizona easily and Michigan in a close race. With 99 percent of Michigan precincts reporting, Romney had 41.1 percent to Santorum's 37.9 percent. Trailing were Paul, with 11.6 percent, and Gingrich with 6.5 percent.

Santorum maintained that by coming close to Romney, who grew up in the Detroit area, he has momentum going into neighboring Ohio. Romney cited his two wins and substantial lead in delegates to the August GOP convention.

The four candidates will next compete in 10 states that will vote March 6 and award 437 delegates. 1,144 are needed for nomination. The two key battlegrounds are Ohio, perennially a swing state, and the conservative states of Tennessee, Oklahoma and Georgia.

Santorum said Wednesday he needs to do well in Ohio, where he will aim his pitch to the same fed-up blue collar conservatives who rallied around him in Michigan. He also plans efforts in Tennessee and Oklahoma, where his social conservative message is likely to resonate, as well as Washington state, which holds a caucus Saturday.

Gingrich, a former Georgia congressman, is pushing hard to keep his campaign alive with a victory in his home.

Romney has no events planned in the South this week. Instead, he's banking on a win in Washington as well as Ohio, which has a history of electing center-right officials, and a host of smaller states.

In Toledo, Many voters who showed up on a cold, rainy day to hear him at a warehouse used by American Posts, a metal fence post manufacturer, praised his business resume and common sense approach to problems. Santorum, they said, is too radical.

"Don't go there. I just don't care for him," said Phyllis Black, a Toledo printer.

Romney, on the other hand, "changed a lot of companies for the better. He's a real turnaround artist, and that's what government needs," said Leon Bird, who runs a Tiffin agricultural supply company.

Romney is also looking to pile up delegates in North Dakota, Idaho, Massachusetts, Vermont and elsewhere. And he should do well in Virginia, where only he and Paul are on the ballot.

But his stop in Toledo lacked any evidence of strong momentum from Romney's Tuesday win in Michigan, whose border is a few miles away.

The crowd offered polite applause throughout his 15-minute talk. Romney talked largely about his economic ideas.

"The people who said the economy and jobs were the number one issue, they voted for me overwhelmingly. That's one of the reasons I'm running," Romney said.

According to network exit polls, 55 percent cited the economy, and Romney won 47 percent of their votes. Santorum got 30 percent.

Romney blasted Obama for the nation's deficits and the sluggish economy. "You want someone in the private sector, who understands where jobs come from?" he asked. "I know how we're going to get America working again."

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