- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 29, 2012

TOLEDO, Ohio — Mitt Romney won more votes than Rick Santorum in Tuesday’s Michigan primary, but the two Republican front-runners split the delegate haul down the middle — 15 each — prompting the Santorum campaign to declare victory as the focus shifts to next week’s Super Tuesday.

The Santorum campaign called the delegate results a blow to Mr. Romney, who dramatically outspent the rest of the field in a state where he was born and his father was governor in the 1960s.

“It is not a win for Mitt Romney. I don’t know how you don’t see this as a strong showing for Rick Santorum and certainly somewhat of a disaster for Mitt Romney,” John Brabender, a senior Santorum strategist, told reporters in a conference call in which he also made the case that, “if we can do this well in Romney’s home state, we clearly think this bodes well for Super Tuesday states.”

Mr. Santorum lost the Michigan primary vote by 3 percentage points, but did well enough in individual congressional districts to catch up in the proportional awarding of delegates — though the Romney camp argues the former senator from Pennsylvania cheated by appealing to Democratic voters to cross party lines in the open primary and vote for him. That same appeal was made by liberal groups looking to ding the Romney campaign ahead of an expected general election showdown against President Obama.

The Romney campaign pre-emptively struck back before the Santorum camp’s conference call, issuing a press release highlighting exit polls that showed the ex-governor handily won among Republican voters, while Mr. Santorum won among Democrats. It also released a “Liberal Democrats for Santorum” online video in which self-identified Michigan Democrats claim to have supported Mr. Santorum in an attempt to protect President Obama from going up against Mr. Romney in the general election.

A supporter's reflection and the image of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are seen on the screen of his iPad as he photographs Mr. Romney greeting supporters at American Posts in Toledo, Ohio, on Wednesday. (Associated Press)
A supporter’s reflection and the image of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney ... more >

Rick Santorum made a colossal mistake by inviting Democrats to come into the Republican primary in Michigan. It may have helped him win the Democrat vote, but he lost decisively among Republicans,” said Matt Rhoades, Mr. Romney’s campaign manager. “If the only way Rick Santorum thinks he can win an election is to recruit Democrats to vote against Mitt Romney, he needs to re-evaluate why he is even in this race. Republicans should choose the nominee, not Democrats. Rick Santorum needs to apologize and pledge that he won’t resort to these dirty tactics on Super Tuesday.”

Team Romney followed up with a conference call later in the day in which John H. Sununu, a top Romney surrogate and former New Hampshire governor, delivered some of the stiffest criticism of the day, telling reporters that Mr. Santorum’s appeal to Michigan Democrats “makes me feel like throwing up.”

The political spin comes as the GOP presidential field, which also includes former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, prepared for the 10 contests scheduled for Tuesday, when nearly 40 percent of all the delegates to the national convention will be up for grabs.

To win the nomination, a candidate must capture 1,144 delegates to the national convention this summer in Tampa, Fla., where the party’s nominee will be officially tapped.

Mr. Romney’s two-state sweep helped him pad his lead in the delegate hunt and provided him with some additional bragging rights at a couple of campaign stops Wednesday in Ohio, where 66 delegates will be up for grabs next week, making it one of the biggest prizes among the 10 states that will hold their contests.

“It was a big night, last night for me, I was pleased,” Mr. Romney told a small crowd gathered inside the Universal Metals LLC warehouse. “People who said that the economy and jobs were the No. 1 issue, they voted for me overwhelmingly.”

Standing on a stage in front of massive steel coils used to make posts, Mr. Romney stuck to the basic stump speech he honed on the campaign trail in Michigan, criticizing what he sees as Mr. Obama’s failure to reduce national spending, shrink the size of government and get people back to work.

He also tried to distance himself from his three GOP rivals by contrasting the 25 years he spent in the business world against the long political careers of the other Republicans in the race.

“Do you want someone who spent his life in the private sector, who understands where jobs come from, or do you want someone who spent his career in Washington?” he said. “There are a couple of guys who spent their entire career in Washington, you can vote for them. I just don’t think we are going to beat Barack Obama and get our country back on track if we have guys whose resumes look like his resume.”

Mr. Santorum, meanwhile, claimed a moral victory in coming so close in Michigan.

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