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Romney Focuses on Obama as Santorum Goes Bowling

The leading rivals for the Republican presidential nomination campaigned today before Wisconsin’s primary polls close with different missions: Mitt Romney focused on President Barack Obama and November’s general election while Rick Santorum tried to stay viable.

Romney didn’t mention Santorum as he expressed increasing confidence that he will claim his party’s nomination. Favored to win today’s other primaries in Maryland and Washington, D.C., Romney is counting on a victory in Wisconsin to intensify pressure on Santorum to end his candidacy.

“If we have a good turnout, then I’ll become the person who receives the Wisconsin delegates that I need to go on to become the nominee,” he said after handing out sandwiches to potential voters in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha.

Targeting Obama, Romney said the president is “looking everywhere he can to find someone else to blame” for the failures of his administration. He said Obama’s policies haven’t encouraged private-sector growth and hiring.

“He gets full credit or blame for what’s happened in this economy and what’s happened to gasoline prices under his watch,” Romney said.

For the fifth consecutive day, Romney, 65, was accompanied by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the House Budget Committee chairman who endorsed him last week and is often mentioned in media reports as a possible running mate.

Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Rick Santorum at Sabre Lanes bowling alley following a campaign rally on April 2, 2012 in Menasha, Wisconsin. Close

Rick Santorum at Sabre Lanes bowling alley following a campaign rally on April 2, 2012... Read More

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Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Rick Santorum at Sabre Lanes bowling alley following a campaign rally on April 2, 2012 in Menasha, Wisconsin.

Element of Uncertainty

As was the case in Michigan, the Wisconsin primary is open, meaning Democrats can vote if they like. That offers an element of uncertainty as both campaigns await the results after the polls close at 9 p.m. eastern time.

Santorum, 53, planned to spend today fundraising in Austin, Texas, before flying to his home state of Pennsylvania for an election-night rally, campaign manager Mike Biundo said.

Traveling yesterday through Wisconsin’s northern section, Santorum stopped at bowling alleys, cheese stores and banquet halls to try to appeal to the rural voters and evangelical Christians whose backing has made him Romney’s chief opponent.

“I’m asking small-town America, rural America, rural Wisconsin to come out and speak loudly tomorrow,” he said in Oshkosh. “Take the day off tomorrow. It’s on me. And spend some time getting folks to the polls.”

Also still in the race are U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Criticizing Obama

Romney has tried to keep the attention on Obama. “The right thing for us I think is to get a nominee as soon as we can and be able to focus on Barack Obama,” he said today on Fox News.

Romney criticized Obama’s handling of the economy as he sought votes yesterday in Wisconsin, a state that has been closely contested in recent presidential elections.

“One of the reasons we’re going to take over the White House is because he does not know how to make this economy work,” he said at a Milwaukee stop.

Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, responded with an e-mail criticizing Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts.

“We’ve seen what happens when Mitt Romney is in charge, and it’s greatly at odds with his message today of more jobs, less debt and smaller government,” Smith said. “During his four years as governor, Massachusetts had the fourth-worst job- creation rate of any state in the nation; debt increased by 16 percent; government jobs grew six times as fast as private sector jobs, and taxes increased by $750 million each year.”

Obama Leads

Obama holds a 51 percent to 42 percent lead over Romney in a dozen states expected to be the closest in the November general election, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll published yesterday.

The survey found Romney has lost support among women during the primaries, giving Obama an 18-percentage-point advantage among female voters combined in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

In his Fox News interview, Romney said he will win over more support from women as he continues to talk about his economic views.

“The way we’re going to get women voters in our side of the column is by talking about how we’re going to get this economy going again,” he said.

Interracial Marriage

During a stop in a suburb of Green Bay, Romney was asked by an audience member whether he views interracial marriage as a sin because he’s a Mormon.

“No,” he said. “Next question.”

Until 1978, the Mormon Church had a policy against ordaining blacks for the priesthood.

Later in Milwaukee, he said there’s a “war on religion,” when asked by an audience member about the Obama administration’s requirement that employers offering health care, including religious-affiliated institutions, must cover contraception.

Overshadowing the presidential race in Wisconsin has been a recall campaign involving Republican Governor Scott Walker, a fight that has energized activists in both major parties.

“I understand that you’re involved in this state race,” Santorum said in Oshkosh. “But I think you also understand how important this race is for president.”

No Foregone Conclusion

In an effort to pre-empt a poor showing in the state, he continued stressing the insurgent, underdog nature of his candidacy.

“I wasn’t supposed to be in Wisconsin in April campaigning for president because, well, this race was a foregone conclusion before it started. Governor Romney was going to be the nominee,” said Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.

A contested convention in Tampa, Florida, in August would be an “energizing thing” for Republicans, Santorum said yesterday in Appleton. Whoever wins the nomination would have little difficulty raising money or expanding the campaign staff, he said.

Still, with polls showing him behind in Wisconsin, Santorum’s campaign has taken on the air of a Midwestern family vacation. He made a stop at a cheese store in Appleton, where he signed a cheese-head hat, headed behind the deli counter to cook a grilled cheese sandwich, and indulged in a lunchtime beer.

Bowling Alley

From there it was off to a bowling alley in nearby Menasha -- his seventh such stop in eight days -- to bowl several frames and reinforce his everyman image against Romney, a former private-equity executive.

While Santorum says he will stay in the race even if he loses all of today’s contests, he faces a challenge to keep his campaign alive through April.

“The map looks a lot better for us in May,” he said yesterday, referring to primaries scheduled that month in Southern and border states that include North Carolina, West Virginia, Arkansas and Texas.

A three-week voting lull follows today’s contests. Primaries on April 24 are being held in four states where Romney is favored -- Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and Delaware - - and Pennsylvania, which Santorum represented for 16 years in the House and Senate.

A Quinnipiac University Poll released today showed Santorum leads Romney among likely Pennsylvania primary voters, 41 percent to 35 percent. The poll, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points, was done March 27 to April 1.

With about half the Republican nominating contests complete, Romney has exactly half -- 572 -- of the 1,144 delegates needed to capture the nomination, according to an Associated Press tally. Santorum has 273 delegates and would need to win about three-fourths of those remaining.

In a NBC News/Marist poll released March 30, Romney led Santorum in Wisconsin, 40 percent to 33 percent. The telephone survey of 740 likely Republican primary voters was conducted March 26-27 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

To contact the reporters on this story: John McCormick in Waukesha, Wisconsin at jmccormick16@bloomberg.net Lisa Lerer in Appleton, Wisconsin at llerer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net

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