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Romney raps Obama in S.C.; GOP rivals pile on in N.H.
CONWAY, S.C. — Looking beyond an expected win in New Hampshire, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney reached out to South Carolina voters Friday with a two-track argument that President Barack Obama has mishandled the economy and devised an “inexcusable, unthinkable” plan to shrink the U.S. military. His GOP rivals kept up an anti-Romney drumbeat in New Hampshire, hoping to chip away at his support and slow his momentum.
“If Mitt Romney wins here, he will be the next president of the United States,” McCain told the crowd at a century-old peanut warehouse near Myrtle Beach, where the two campaigned with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
A new poll showed Romney gaining ground in the state: The TIME/CNN/ORC poll found Romney leading with 37 percent support, a 17-point gain since early December. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum showed a 15-point surge and was nearly tied with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who dropped from 43% support in early December and was 18%.
Romney kept up his criticism of Obama as a jobs killer but didn’t get much message reinforcement from the government on Friday: The Labor Department reported that employers added a net 200,000 jobs last month and that the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent, the fourth straight monthly drop.
Romney said the report contains some good news, but that America still “deserves better.” ”Thirty-five consecutive months of unemployment above 8 percent is no cause for celebration,” he said in a written statement.
Santorum, campaigning in New Hampshire, said the uptick had come “despite the president’s jobs policy,” and he managed to claim credit for Republicans. Santorum said he was “very gratified” that hiring had picked up but suggested the boost was tied to voters’ optimism that a Republican would win the White House.
“I think the president’s program is slowing down the recovery, rather than accelerating it,” he said.
Obama savored the positive economic news, calling it “real progress.” And he took care of some campaign business by going out to lunch with four Americans who won a contest that lets small-dollar donors nosh with the president.
Romney’s GOP rivals are working overtime to cast as him to too timid and too moderate: They’re urging Republicans to do themselves a favor and nominate a more conservative standard-bearer offering a sharper contrast to Obama.
“The only way Republicans lose is if we screw this up and nominate another moderate who has taken multiple positions on every major issue of our time,” Santorum told supporters in a fundraising appeal Friday.
Gingrich argued on morning TV news shows that Romney can’t win the nomination and said that even if he did, his performance against Obama in the general election campaign debates would simply draw a laugh from the president.
The former House speaker, speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” predicted that Romney would win New Hampshire but that one of the former Massachusetts governor’s GOP rivals “will eventually emerge as the conservative alternative and will beat Romney.”
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