ATLANTA — Mitt Romney is angling to solidify his front-runner status and Rick Santorum to keep it a two-man race as voters in 10 states put Super Tuesday’s imprint on the Republican presidential contest. Newt Gingrich just hopes to keep his struggling campaign alive with a strong showing in Georgia.
“Good luck tonight,” President Barack Obama quipped during a White House news conference when asked if he had anything to say to Romney. “Really,” Obama added wryly as he tried to steal some of the spotlight from his GOP rivals on the biggest day yet in the Republican race.
From coast to coast, voters were weighing in on which Republican should get the chance to challenge Obama in November.
Enthusiasm was in short supply among some of those casting ballots.
Gingrich got a reluctant vote from Tricia Tetrault, in Edmond, Okla., where she explained her decision this way: “Ronald Reagan wasn’t available any more. What can I say?”
Santorum got the support of contractor Matt Howells in suburban Cleveland, but Howells didn’t expect his ballot would count for much.
“I really don’t see a Republican winning the White House,” he said.
With 419 delegates at stake around the country, Tuesday’s voting represents a sizable slice of the 1,144 needed to nail down the GOP nomination.
The GOP front-runner, trying to keep his focus on Obama, used a speech Tuesday before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to argue he’d be more effective at containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Santorum and Gingrich, too, addressed the committee and faulted the president’s record on Iran and the Mideast.
The president, for his part, put the power of incumbency on display with his first full news conference of the year. He announced a new program to address the housing crisis, part of his ongoing effort to show he’s working aggressively to help the economy recover.
He also pushed back at GOP critics on oil and energy issues, saying there’s no way a president up for re-election would want gas prices to go up. He also argued that Democrats have a “better story” than Republicans to tell female voters. And he castigated his GOP critics for talking about the possibility of war with Iran in a casual way and accused them of “beating the drums of war.”
“Those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities,” Obama said. “They are not commander in chief.”
Priorities USA Action, a super PAC backing the president, trained its criticism solely on Romney, issuing a “Super Tuesday memo” arguing that the front-runner’s “agenda for the wealthy” was hurting him with those who are not.