Mitt Romney’s rivals pile on the pejoratives
Friday, January 6, 2012
MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Timid, an unreliable conservative, a defender of the status quo. Rivals of Republican front-runner Mitt Romney can’t find too many bad things to say about the former Massachusetts governor as they try to put the brakes on his steamrolling campaign.
Romney had harsh words of his own, but for Democratic President Barack Obama, whom he called a “crony capitalist” and “a job killer.”
Romney was heavily favored to win Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, so much so that he was campaigning for a second day in South Carolina, where voters weren’t due to cast primary ballots for two weeks. He was appearing Friday with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, two local favorites who have urged conservatives to support Romney as the GOP’s nominee.
Rick Santorum, who pulled within a handful of votes to place just behind Romney in Iowa’s caucuses, was likely to find a welcome audience among South Carolina conservatives and so remained in New Hampshire to try to maintain the momentum he earned from Iowa. Jon Huntsman, who bypassed Iowa to bet his campaign on a good finish in New Hampshire, was showing off an endorsement by The Boston Globe, Romney’s hometown paper.
“Don’t settle for less than America needs,” Santorum asked those expected to vote in New Hampshire’s first-in-the nation primary. Without saying so Thursday, he and the other candidates appeared to share a common objective — hold down Romney’s vote totals in New Hampshire, then knock him off stride in the first Southern primary of the year.
Romney benefited handsomely from having several rivals split the vote in Iowa, where his winner’s share was roughly 25 percent.
“Gradually you are going to see we have a difference of opinion about which will be the last conservative standing,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told reporters Thursday as he campaigned in New Hampshire. “But I think you’ll eventually come down to one conservative and Governor Romney and he’ll continue to get 25 percent.”
Also vying to emerge as Romney’s chief rival were Texans Ron Paul and Rick Perry.
“We can’t afford to have a status quo president,” Huntsman said in Durham, N.H. “We can’t afford to have a coronation for president.”
Huntsman made hay out of winning the Globe’s endorsement. It was the second time Massachusetts’ largest newspaper had snubbed Romney ahead of the New Hampshire primary.
Gingrich unveiled a new television commercial aimed at voters in New Hampshire and South Carolina that cited one review of Romney’s jobs program as timid and nearly identical in part to the president’s.
“Timid won’t create jobs. And timid certainly won’t defeat Barack Obama,” the ad said.
Ironically, in a year in which polls show the economy is overwhelmingly the top issue for voters, the first two contests are in states with low joblessness — 5.7 percent in Iowa and 5.4 percent in New Hampshire.
That all changes a week later.
South Carolina’s unemployment was 9.9 percent in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, worse than 41 other states and more than a full percentage point higher than the national average.
Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, managed to criticize Romney and most of the other Republicans in the race in the space of a few sentences.
“I’ve never been for government-run health care,” he said in a swipe at both Romney and Gingrich. “I’m not for no regulation, I’m not a libertarian,” he added, a jab at Paul.
Yet he also fielded pointed questions from his audiences — something that he said happened regularly in Iowa, when he campaigned with little or no media coverage for months.
In Tilton he was pressed for his views on gun control, given his endorsement in an earlier campaign for former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, who favored restrictions. Santorum responded that he is committed to the rights of gun owners.
Later, in an appearance before college students in Concord, he was asked about his opposition to same-sex marriage, which is legal in New Hampshire. “So anyone can marry anyone else?” Santorum said, swiftly turning the conversation to polygamy. “So anyone can marry several people?”
The crowd objected and tried to talk over him.
“Stop. This is not participatory. We’re not going to do this. I’m going to ask the question,” Santorum said, growing testy.
Santorum’s aides say he had raised $2 million on the strength of his Iowa showing. The campaign sought to show momentum by announcing the support of a New Hampshire tea party leader and Catholicvote.org, an online organization, as well as another state senator and the chair of the conservative think tank Cornerstone.
Gingrich sought to set a high bar for Romney. “It’s probably one of his three best states, but we’ll see whether he gets a majority here,” he said.
In the ebb and flow of the campaign, one-time national front-runner Gingrich was hoping to reverse a slide that landed him in fourth place in Iowa.
Paul was absent, after a third-place finish in Iowa. He is scheduled to arrive in New Hampshire on Friday, in time to campaign and participate in a pair of weekend debates.
Perry, who finished fifth in Iowa, is bypassing New Hampshire to try and resurrect his chances in South Carolina. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann dropped out after a last-place showing in Iowa.
Associated Press writers Brian Bakst in St. Paul, Minn.; Philip Elliott, Kasie Hunt, Shannon McCaffrey and Holly Ramer in New Hampshire; Jim Davenport in Columbia, S.C.; Beth Fouhy in New York; and David Espo in Washington contributed to this report.