Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum set sights on Obama
Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman were happy to level their criticism at Romney, casting the front-runner as too timid to take on Obama and bring about needed change.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, is reaching for a decisive victory next Tuesday in New Hampshire to solidify his standing. At a morning stop in Salem before heading to South Carolina, Romney labeled Obama a "crony capitalist," invoking a theme that Rep. Michele Bachmann had used before dropping out of the race.
Santorum, under new scrutiny after a strong showing in Iowa's kickoff caucuses, offered himself as "the conservative alternative" to Romney and claimed he's got the momentum to propel his campaign beyond New Hampshire.
"Our office is buzzing," Santorum said after an appearance in Manchester. "We're the folks that people are getting excited about." He dismissed Obama as "a president who doesn't understand us."
Gingrich, the former House speaker, kept up his campaign to pull down Romney. In his first TV ad aimed at Romney, Gingrich sizes up his rival's economic plan as "virtually identical to Obama's failed policy" and says "timid won't create jobs and timid certainly won't defeat Barack Obama."
Gingrich also gave a dismissive assessment of Santorum when asked to size up the former Pennsylvania senator, saying that "in historical terms, he would be a junior partner." Speaking at a senior center in Plymouth, N.H., Gingrich questioned whether Santorum has a "track record" for running a large-scale national campaign, as Gingrich did when he engineered the Republican takeover of the House in 1994.
Huntsman, the former Utah governor who skipped the Iowa caucuses, also hammered at Romney, casting him as a captive of Wall Street who won't bring about the change the nation needs. Hoping for a breakout, Huntsman offered himself as the underdog for New Hampshire voters to take "from the back of the pack" and move to the foreground.
In a one-two-three punch, Huntsman, Gingrich and Santorum all swatted away any notion of inevitability for Romney.
At a printing press company in Durham, Huntsman told employees: "We can't afford to have a coronation for president. We can't afford to have the establishment stand up and say, 'Here's your guy: Mr. Romney, from Massachusetts.'"
At a former train station in Tilton, Santorum told voters: "Don't settle for less than America needs."
At the senior center, Gingrich told reporters that Romney wouldn't "come anywhere near enough voters per state to become the nominee."
Romney pocketed a big endorsement Wednesday from Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee in 2008, who argued Thursday that it's time for the party to get behind Romney and "get into the main event" — defeating Obama. McCain won New Hampshire's primary in 2000 and 2008 and remains popular with Republicans and independents, who can vote on Tuesday.
McCain, who spoke on CBS' "The Early Show," was to appear with Romney and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley at campaign events in that state later in the day.
Romney, keeping the focus on the president, has a new TV ad in South Carolina that criticizes Obama for adopting "un-American" economic policies that hurt workers in the state and faults him for packing a government labor panel with "union stooges."
Romney's Republican rivals had no intention of heeding McCain's calls for a quick end to the GOP nomination fight.
The Iowa caucuses did little to clarify what has long been a fractured GOP field, with Romney and Santorum battling almost to a tie in that state and libertarian Texas Rep. Ron Paul placing third. The result demonstrated anew the difficulty Republicans have had in choosing between Romney, a former business executive who governed as a moderate, and a more dynamic, conservative alternative.
For now, Santorum has taken on that role.
The former Pennsylvania senator lost by just eight votes to Romney in Iowa, a strong showing due to a socially conservative message and dedicated politicking across the state's 99 counties. His challenge now is to raise money and build a strong enough organization to cement his status as a durable challenger to Romney.
Taking note of the ever-changing list of front-runners for the GOP nomination, Santorum told voters: "Don't defer your judgment to the pundits. They're on their seventh 'this race is down to two people' scenario."
Santorum, of course, wants to be half of the last such duo.
His aides reported raising $1 million Wednesday alone, largely through a surge in online donations that crippled the campaign's website shortly after the Iowa results were announced. Campaign manager Mike Biundo has said the campaign's fundraising pace tripled over the last week.
In TV interviews after his Iowa victory, Santorum was challenged on his conservative views and record in Washington.
On CNN, he was asked about past comments equating homosexuality with bestiality.
"One can have desires to do things that we believe are wrong, but it's when you act out on things, that's the problem," Santorum said.
He also defended so-called earmarks — congressional spending designed to benefit lawmakers' home-state projects.
"When you go to Congress, you fight to make sure that when taxes go from your state to Washington, D.C., you fight to make sure you get your fair share back," he said, adding that he now opposes earmarks.
Santorum also suggested he had been misinterpreted while discussing Medicaid when he appeared to single out black recipients for criticism.
Paul is taking some time off at home in Lake Jackson, Texas, where he has been resting, riding his bike, and preparing for two weekend debates. He will return to New Hampshire on Friday and stay through Tuesday's primary. As recently as this week, Paul said he could not see himself becoming president.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry also went home after saying he would reassess his candidacy following a weak fifth-place finish in Iowa, but he later announced he would carry on. He planned to test his sputtering candidacy in South Carolina, which holds its primary Jan. 21. Perry also was expected in New Hampshire for the debates.
- Mitt Romney brushes off rivals' barbs in New Hampshire debate (Video) 1/7/12
- Rick Santorum: Cut Social Security now 1/6/12
- Mitt Romney tax plan would mostly benefit the wealthy 1/5/12
- Jon Huntsman gets endorsement of Boston Globe 1/5/12
- Stirring up a fight, Obama names consumer watchdog 1/5/12
- Ron Paul rips Newt Gingrich as Vietnam-era 'chicken hawk' 1/4/12
- Michele Bachmann quits GOP race; Rick Perry says he's pressing on 1/4/12
- Mitt Romney ekes out 8-vote win over Rick Santorum in Iowa 1/3/12
- Rick Santorum surges as Newt Gingrich fades, polling says 12/31/11
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