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Romney seeks sweep to knock out Santorum

98 delegates at stake in three primaries

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Mitt Romney on Monday delivered his closing argument to Wisconsin voters a day out from the state's Republican primary, as the former Massachusetts governor looked to land a knockout blow against Rick Santorum's presidential dreams by sweeping the three nomination contests Tuesday.

With House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, one of the state's native sons, in tow, Mr. Romney ignored his primary rivals Monday and took aim at President Obama.

"He takes his political inspiration from the capitals of Europe," Mr. Romney told supporters in Green Bay. "His version of a perfect world is a big-spending big government."

Mr. Santorum, meanwhile, played up his underdog status at a "Rally for Rick" in Oshkosh, mocking Mr. Romney's conservative credentials and calling on voters not to bow to the increasing number of Republicans who argue that the race is all but over.

"You have the opportunity to shock the world," said the former senator from Pennsylvania.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, meanwhile, shifted his focus elsewhere by announcing a three-day campaign swing through California this week.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich campaigned in Maryland, where, four months after confidently claiming "I'm going to be the nominee," he delivered a different message.

"I can't tell you today how realistic it is that we will get to an open convention, and I can't tell you today with any certainty that I will be the nominee," Mr. Gingrich said at a Frederick car dealership.

"But I can tell you a couple things. Despite six years of campaigning, $40 million of his own money, millions raised from Wall Street — largely from people who got our tax money from the bailout — Gov. Romney doesn't have it locked down. And we have no obligation to back off and concede anything until he does," he said.

Voters in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia head to the polls that will decide the fate of 98 delegates. Polls show Mr. Romney is poised to win all three contests.

So far, Mr. Romney has collected 568 delegates, giving him more than his rivals combined, in the chase for the 1,144 delegates needed to seal the party's presidential nomination ahead of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., in August.

For Mr. Romney, a three-race sweep would put more pressure on Mr. Santorum to end his bid and allow him to further zero in his attention on Mr. Obama.

After failing to get on the ballot in the nation's capital, Mr. Santorum has concentrated his time and money in Wisconsin, where a win could provide him a boost heading into a part of the nomination calendar that appears to be more hospitable political turf for Mr. Romney.

In a last-ditch effort to score some points with voters before Tuesday's contests, Mr. Santorum penned an op-ed for USA Today and started airing a 30-second television ad in Wisconsin that linked the policies that Mr. Romney adopted as governor of Massachusetts with those that the Obama administration has embraced on the federal level.

With a picture of Mr. Obama as the backdrop, a female narrator asks voters whether they would support a candidate whose health care mandate included $50 abortions, who supported "job-killing cap and trade," who backed Wall Street bailouts and who increased taxes on people by hundreds of millions of dollars.

"One more thing: What if I told you the man I'm talking about isn't him, it's him," she says, as the backdrop morphs from a photo of Mr. Obama to a solemn-faced Mr. Romney.

Andrea Saul, a Romney spokeswoman, countered that Mr. Santorum's claims are false and pointed to independent fact-checkers who came to similar conclusions.

"Rick Santorum is attacking pollsters, attacking reporters and attacking Mitt Romney," she said, alluding to Mr. Santorum's recent public spat with a New York Times reporter, which he has since used to try to raise money.

"It is sad to see him completely lose his bearings and revert to patently false claims. Sen. Santorum is at a point of desperation that he will say or do anything. It is pretty clear that he is lashing out at everyone around him in order to prop up his sinking campaign," Ms. Saul said.

The battle Tuesday follows a USA Today/Gallup poll that found Mr. Obama holds an eight-point edge over Mr. Santorum and a four-point edge over Mr. Romney among registered voters nationally, giving the Democrat his largest lead over Mr. Romney since the group started asking the question in August.

Perhaps more important, the survey showed that Mr. Obama is outperforming both Republican men in a dozen swing states, especially among women.

"The momentum in the 2012 U.S. presidential election appears to be going in Obama's favor; he now enjoys his best positioning against likely Republican nominee Romney nationally and in key swing states to this point in the campaign," Jeffrey M. Jones of Gallup said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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