Rick Santorum charged that Mitt Romney is trying to “buy” the Republican presidential nomination and can’t be trusted on issues central to the party’s cause as the two campaigned in Ohio the day before Super Tuesday.
With polls in the state showing momentum heading Romney’s way, Santorum told several hundred students and supporters at a Christian school in Miamisburg that Republicans should back “someone who doesn’t think you can buy” the nomination.
Ad spending by Romney’s campaign and a political action committee backing him outpaced expenditures on behalf of Santorum in Ohio by about 10 to 1, according to data from New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, an advertising tracking company.
The Romney campaign and Restore Our Future, a super-PAC that supports him, spent $1.8 million to air ads 3,713 times on Ohio broadcast television through March 1, CMAG reported. The Red White and Blue Fund, a super-PAC backing Santorum, had spent $181,250 to air ads 371 times.
Romney, 64, made a jobs-centered pitch as he toured the state by bus, criticizing his rivals in the Republican race and President Barack Obama for losing focus on the economy. He said Obama instead put his effort into the healthcare overhaul, financial regulatory legislation, and a union organizing measure known as card check.
Focus on Jobs
“One of the reasons we’re having such difficulty coming out of the downturn we’ve been in is because the president has failed to focus on what was most important to America, which is getting good jobs again,” Romney told voters at a guardrail manufacturing company in Canton, after touring its factory floor littered with car-sized rolls of steel and industrial machinery.
“I look at this campaign right now, and I see a lot of folks all talking about lots of things, but what we need to talk about to defeat Barack Obama is getting good jobs and scaling back the size of government — and that’s what I do,” the former Massachusetts governor said.
Ohio has emerged as the most coveted prize in Super Tuesday voting in 10 states, when more than 400 of the 1,144 delegates needed for the Republican nomination are at stake in a single day. The results may go a long way in determining the nominee in an unpredictable contest.
A Quinnipiac University poll released today shows Romney, who won a non-binding straw poll during Washington State’s caucuses over the weekend, leading Santorum in Ohio, 34 percent to 31 percent. Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich had 15 percent and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul 12 percent.
The telephone poll surveyed 753 likely Republican voters in Ohio’s primary between March 2 and Sunday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. A Quinnipiac poll on Feb. 27 had Santorum over Romney, 36 percent to 29 percent.
A NBC/Marist poll released Sunday gave Santorum an edge over Romney, 34 percent to 32 percent; the survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
While Romney’s campaign wouldn’t predict a win in Ohio or any state tomorrow — and conceded that he expects to lose in Georgia — a top adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, said his candidate will win the majority of delegates at stake.
“We’re looking forward to a good day,” he said today.
Endorsements for Romney
Following Romney’s endorsement by U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia Sunday and a nod today from former Attorney General John Ashcroft of Missouri, Fehrnstrom said: “The party has already begun to coalesce behind Mitt Romney, and we expect that we’ll pick up more endorsements after Tuesday.”
Santorum, 53, dismissed the polls in his speech.
“Don’t listen to the polls, don’t listen to all the media hype and all the things about what this race is about,” he said. “Just focus in on whether we want a man who can stand up and paint a very different vision for this country, someone who’s got a principled record, someone who is willing to go out and talk about all the issues that are confronting this country.”
Santorum questioned Romney’s continued focus on the nation’s economy in his campaign message.
“This country is more than just the economy,” the former Pennsylvania senator said. “I’m someone who has gone out and delivered that message against all the odds.”
More Than Money
Santorum encouraged voters to “think hard and look deep” at the candidates and “not just what money they have.”
Saying Romney can’t be trusted, 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 healthcare problem.
Romney helped craft a Massachusetts healthcare law during his gubernatorial term that included the insurance mandate central to the federal measure Obama pushed through Congress in 2010.
“Do we want someone who has gone along with this big government overreach?” Santorum asked. “Why would the Republican Party here in the state of Ohio or anywhere else nominate someone who completely forfeits the biggest issue of this campaign because he was an advocate for exactly what President Obama did.”
Santorum’s campaign has pointed out that Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment last November seeking to prohibit any mandate to buy health insurance. The measure was adopted in every Ohio county, with 66 percent of the vote statewide, according to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.
Santorum said he wants others in the race to exit, so he can get a clearer matchup against Romney.
“Hopefully, eventually, having the chance to go one-on-one and the end of this thing and see where this race really falls out,” he said.
Nationally, support from conservatives has given Romney the lead in the race in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released today. Romney was supported by 38 percent of those surveyed and Santorum by 32 percent; Gingrich and Paul were tied at 13 percent. The telephone poll was conducted Feb. 29-March 3 among 400 Republican primary voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
Along with the votes in Ohio and Georgia, primaries are being held tomorrow in Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee Vermont and Virginia — a state where only Romney and Paul are on the ballot. Caucuses occur in Alaska, Idaho and North Dakota. Wyoming also begins its delegate-selection process at county conventions that start tomorrow, with some results reported, and end on March 10.
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