Romney Rebuked as Santorum Scores Victories

Tuesday, 06 Mar 2012 07:13 PM

 

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Rick Santorum stopped Mitt Romney in his tracks Tuesday night with major victories in Tennessee, Oklahoma, and North Dakota. Romney barely squeaked out a narrow victory in the key battleground state of Ohio, in the most turbulent race for the Republican presidential nomination in a generation.

But Super Tuesday was supposed to have delivered a series of wins for the former Massachusetts governor.

Instead, Santorum’s victories — and a romp for Newt Gingrich in Georgia — turned the results into a crippling blow to any idea that Romney could clinch the nomination early.

Romney scored an early victory in Virginia, where neither Santorum nor  Gingrich were on the ballot, and posted wins in Vermont, Idaho, Ohio, Alaska, and his home state of Massachusetts.

Exit polls in Ohio and other states, meanwhile, confirmed that Santorum continued to do well among conservatives and evangelical voters while holding his own against Romney with women.

Romney and Santorum dueled late into the wee hours in Ohio, their second industrial-state showdown in as many weeks and the focus of the Super Tuesday contests.

And Romney's playbook of massive negative TV ad buys, which helped win Florida and Michigan, nearly failed him in Ohio.

Romney and his super PACs spent over $12.5 million in Ohio, largely on attack ads aimed at Santorum, outspending his rival by 12 to 1.

In Ohio, Romney won with 38 percent while Santorum had 37 percent, Gingrich 15 percent, and Paul 9 percent.

“We’re going to win a few. We’re going to lose a few, but as it looks right now we’re going to get at least a couple of gold medals and a whole passel-full of silver medals,” Santorum said, addressing supporters at his Buckeye State headquarters in Steubenville, Ohio.

Listing the six states that he has won since the raucous GOP nomination battle began with the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, Santorum said that he has had to overcome “enormous odds” and has been outspent in every state that he won.

In a swipe at Romney, the former Pennsylvania senator said that he never passed a statewide government-run healthcare system as governor of a state, as Romney did.

He also lambasted Romney for having written a 2009 op-ed for USA Today urging President Barack Obama to use Romneycare as his model, including an individual mandate requiring citizens to buy health insurance.

“And now we find out this week not only did he pass it in Massachusetts, he advocated for it to be passed in Washington, D.C., in the middle of the debate on healthcare,” according to Santorum.

“It’s one thing to defend a mandated top-down government-run healthcare program that you imposed on the people of your state. It’s another thing to recommend and encourage the president of the United States to impose the same thing on the American people, and it’s another thing yet to go out and tell the American public that you didn’t do it.”

Romney countered by saying, “I think we’ll pick up a lot of delegates, and this is a process of gathering enough delegates to become the nominee and I think we’re on track to have that happen.”

The primaries in Virginia, Vermont, Ohio, Massachusetts, Georgia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. Caucuses in North Dakota, Idaho and Alaska rounded out the election calendar.

In all, 419 delegates were at stake in the 10 states, and Romney’s wins allowed him to pad his earlier lead for the nomination.

Romney won at least 183 Super Tuesday delegates and Santorum won at least 64. Gingrich won at least 52 delegates, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul got at least 15.

In the overall race for convention delegates, Romney leads with 386, including endorsements from members of the Republican National Committee who automatically attend the convention and can support any candidate they choose. Santorum has 156 delegates, Gingrich has 85, and Paul has 40.

It will take 1,144 delegates at the party's national convention this summer to win the Republican nomination for president.

In interviews as voters left their polling places, Republicans in state after state said the economy was the top issue and an ability to defeat Obama was what mattered most as they made their Super Tuesday choices.

They also indicated nagging concerns about the candidate they supported, even in Massachusetts. There, one-third of all primary voters said they had reservations, and about three-quarters of those voted for Romney.

Massachusetts is a reliably Democratic state in most presidential elections, but in Ohio, 41 percent of primary voters said they, too, had reservations about the candidate they supported. No Republican has ever won the White House without capturing Ohio.

Gingrich's victory was his first since he captured the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21, and the former House speaker said it would propel him on yet another comeback in a race where he has faded badly over the past six weeks.

Obama, the man they hope to defeat in November, dismissed the almost-constant criticism of his foreign policy efforts and accused Republicans of "beating the drums of war" over Iran.

"Those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities. They're not commander in chief," he said. Unopposed for the Democratic nomination to a second term, he stepped into the Republican race with a Super Tuesday news conference at the White House, then attended a $35,800-a-ticket fundraiser a few blocks from the White House.

Ohio was the day's biggest prize in political significance, a heavily populated industrial state that tested Santorum's ability to challenge Romney in a traditional fall battleground. Georgia, Gingrich's home political field, outranked them all in the number of delegates at stake, with 76, a total that reflected a reliable Republican voting pattern as well as population.

Romney, the leader in the early delegate chase, flew to Massachusetts to vote and said he hoped for a good home-state win.

He also took issue with Obama, saying, "I think all of us are being pretty serious" about Iran and its possible attempt to develop nuclear weapons.

Gingrich effectively acknowledged he had scant Super Tuesday prospects outside Georgia, where he launched his political career nearly three decades ago.

Instead, he was pointing to primaries next week in Alabama and Mississippi, and he told an audience, "With your help, by the end of next week we could really be in a totally new race."

The polls show the president's chances for re-election have improved in recent months, as the economy has strengthened, unemployment has slowly declined, and Republicans have ripped into one another in the most tumultuous nominating campaign the party has endured since 1976.

The former Massachusetts governor campaigned into Super Tuesday on a winning streak. He captured the Washington state caucuses last Saturday, days after winning a little-contested primary in Arizona, and a hard-fought one in Michigan. He won the Maine caucuses earlier in February.

The victories helped settle his campaign, which was staggered when Santorum won a pair of caucuses and a non-binding Missouri primary on Feb. 7.

Santorum and Gingrich have vied for months to emerge as the sole conservative alternative to Romney, and they battered him as a moderate who would lead the party to defeat in November.

But Romney, backed by a heavily financed super PAC, countered Gingrich's victory in the South Carolina primary with a comeback win in Florida. Last week, it was Santorum's turn to fall, as Romney eked out a win in Michigan after trailing by double digits in some polls 10 days before the primary.

Santorum's recent rise has translated into campaign receipts of $9 million in February, his aides announced last week.

Even so, Romney and Restore our Future, the super PAC supporting him, outspent the other candidates and their supporters on television in the key Super Tuesday states.

In Ohio, Romney's campaign purchased about $1.5 million for television advertisements, and Restore Our Future spent $2.3 million. Santorum and Red, White and Blue, a super PAC that supports him, countered with about $1 million combined, according to information on file with the Federal Election Commission, a disadvantage of nearly four to one.

In Tennessee, where Romney did not purchase television time, Restore Our Future spent more than $1 million to help him. Santorum paid for a little over $225,000, and Winning our Future, a super PAC that backs Gingrich, nearly $470,000.

In Georgia, where Gingrich acknowledged he must win, the pro-Romney super PAC spent about $1.5 million in hopes of holding the former House speaker below 50 percent of the vote, the threshold needed to maximize his delegate take.

While the day boasted more primaries and caucuses than any other in 2012, it was a shadow of Super Tuesday in 2008, when there were 20 Republican contests.

There was another big difference, a trend away from winner-take-all contests to a system of allocating delegates in rough proportion to a candidate's share of the popular vote.

Sen. John McCain won eight states on Super Tuesday in 2008 and lost 12 to Romney and Mike Huckabee combined. But six of McCain's victories were winner-take-all primaries, allowing him to build an insurmountable delegate lead that all but sealed his nomination




© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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