Down to the wire in 2-man GOP race in Michigan
FLINT, Mich. (AP) — Republican Mitt Romney fought Saturday to prove he is the strongest challenger to President Obama, an increasingly difficult task given the tight race in his native state of Michigan against surging conservative Rick Santorum.
In the final weekend of campaigning before Tuesday’s Michigan and Arizona primaries, Romney focused on central and southeast Michigan’s urban and industrial centers in hopes of pulling ahead of Santorum.
With a Michigan victory, Santorum could solidify his place as a real threat to Romney heading into Super Tuesday, the 10-state sweepstakes on March. Santorum’s victories so far have come in lower-turnout party caucuses.
Romney is the one facing stubborn doubts from some conservatives for his changed positions on social issues, but he tried to portray Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, as a Washington insider with cracks in his own conservative credentials. Santorum called such criticism “laughable” and said Michigan, where Romney was born and raised and his father was governor, was winnable.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks at the San Marino Club during ... more >
“This is not time for lifelong pols who explain why they voted for this or that based on what they were asked to do by their fellow colleagues,” Romney told about 300 activists gathered for breakfast at a country club. “I will be a president of principle.”
Romney tried to undermine Santorum’s profile as an abortion opponent by noting Santorum’s backing in 1996 of fellow Pennsylvanian Arlen Specter in the GOP presidential race. “He supported the pro-choice candidate,” Romney told more than 2,000 at a forum in Troy put on by a tea party umbrella group. Santorum spoke to the group, Americans for Prosperity, earlier Saturday.
“It is absolutely laughable to have a liberal governor of Massachusetts suggest that I am not a conservative,” Santorum said to cheers to the same group. “He repeatedly gets up and says all these things that he didn’t do that he did do. Folks, this is an issue of trust.”
The volleys over principle and loyalty punctuate the all-out two-man race in Michigan, leaving behind the two others in the field. Both candidates are spending heavily on television advertising, although the better-funded Romney was laying out more.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul is hardly a factor in Michigan but is airing advertisements criticizing Santorum, which aids Romney. Paul was campaigning in Oklahoma Saturday. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was nowhere to be found in the state and has spent scant time in Arizona, which also holds its primary Tuesday.
Gingrich is betting heavily on Georgia, the state he represented in Congress, and a strong showing in Tennessee on March 6.
On Saturday Gingrich was in California for the state GOP convention. He forecast a drawn-out campaign that would give late-voting states a voice.