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Romney Will Keep Feeling Santorum’s Sting

April 11 (Bloomberg) -- Matthew Dowd, Bloomberg political analyst and former chief campaign strategist for George W. Bush, talks about the U.S. labor market and the presidential election. Dowd speaks with Sara Eisen on Bloomberg Television's "InsideTrack." (Source: Bloomberg)

Mitt Romney will continue to feel Rick Santorum’s presence even as the former Pennsylvania senator exited the Republican presidential race, effectively assuring the front-runner’s nomination.

Santorum, who made his announcement yesterday, spent much of the last four months portraying Romney as a phony as he offered himself as the candidate who best understood the needs of the lower middle-class. Democrats already have recycled his material, seeking to portray Romney as an out-of-touch elitist.

“The only thing missing from Santorum’s speech was the mention of the likely Republican nominee, Mitt Romney,” said Jen Psaki, a Democratic strategist who worked on President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and in his White House. “It may be because as recently as the last couple of weeks, Santorum called Mitt Romney completely out of sync with America and uniquely disqualified to lead the party against Barack Obama.”

Santorum’s shadow will loom over Romney as the former Massachusetts governor works on selecting a running mate and tries to rally the evangelical Christians and anti-tax Tea Party voters who fueled his rival’s insurgent campaign.

Running Mate

“No list yet,” Romney said on Fox News today when asked about running mates. “That will come soon enough and we’ll begin sorting through the possibilities. But there’s a large number of people in the Republican Party who are extraordinary leaders, including some of those who’ve run in this last contest with me.”

Photographer: Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Mitt Romney during a campaign stop at RC Fabricators on April 10, 2012, in Wilmington, Delaware. Close

Mitt Romney during a campaign stop at RC Fabricators on April 10, 2012, in Wilmington, Delaware.

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Photographer: Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Mitt Romney during a campaign stop at RC Fabricators on April 10, 2012, in Wilmington, Delaware.

On a conference call today with reporters, Romney’s campaign criticized the so-called Buffett rule that would set a minimum tax on people who earn at least $1 million annually. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett says he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary, largely because of the preferential treatment given to capital gains and dividends. Obama is promoting the rule as an issue of tax fairness.

Kevin Hassett, a Romney economic adviser, said municipal bond interest would be exempted from the “harsh capital treatment” in the proposal and alleged there would be a special protection for its namesake, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/A)

‘No Coincidence’

“Given that we’re calling it the Buffett rule, I think it’s kind of no coincidence that Berkshire has been a big player in muni bond markets and so they’re left, you know, basically untouched by the change,” Hassett said.

Interest income from municipal bonds is exempt from taxation and the Buffett rule wouldn’t change that. Other proposals from Obama to limit high-earners’ tax breaks would require taxation of some portion of municipal bond interest.

Photographer: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Rick Santorum announces he will be suspending his campaign at the Gettysburg Hotel on April 10, 2012 in Pennsylvania. Close

Rick Santorum announces he will be suspending his campaign at the Gettysburg Hotel on... Read More

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Photographer: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Rick Santorum announces he will be suspending his campaign at the Gettysburg Hotel on April 10, 2012 in Pennsylvania.

Buffett didn’t immediately return a message left with an assistant seeking comment.

Andrew Puzder, the chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants Inc. (CKR), told reporters on the call that the economic recovery is “stagnant” and that the Buffett rule would do little to help the federal deficit.

“It doesn’t make sense,” said Puzder, a Romney supporter whose company operates the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s food chains. “It’s not a plan. It’s obviously politically motivated.”

Fair Pay Act

Asked on the conference call whether Romney supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, an aide said he would have to research the matter before answering.

“We’ll get back to you on that,” said Lanhee Chen, Romney’s policy director.

The law, the first Obama signed as president, made it easier for women to file equal-pay lawsuits. The Chen comment prompted a critical statement from Ledbetter, an Alabama woman the act was named after, that was issued by Obama’s campaign headquarters in Chicago.

“I was shocked and disappointed to hear that Mitt Romney is not willing to stand up for women and their families,” she said. “Anyone who wants to be president of the United States shouldn’t have to think about whether they support pursuing every possible avenue to ensuring women get the same pay for the same work as men. Our economic security depends on it.”

Photographer: Paul J. Richard /AFP/Getty Images

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum speaks to supporters in front of the Blair County Courthouse during a campaign rally on April 4, 2012, in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. Close

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum speaks to supporters in front of the... Read More

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Photographer: Paul J. Richard /AFP/Getty Images

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum speaks to supporters in front of the Blair County Courthouse during a campaign rally on April 4, 2012, in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.

“Of course Mitt Romney supports pay equity for women,” Amanda Henneberg, a Romney spokeswoman said in a subsequent e- mailed statement. “The real question is whether President Obama supports jobs for women.”

Andrea Saul, another Romney spokeswoman, said he “supports pay equity and is not looking to change current law.”

Unity Needed

As Romney’s team turned its attention to Obama, Republican strategists warned that he must also invest time in uniting his own party.

Richard Viguerie, who’d advised Santorum, said “there’s some hard feelings among conservatives.” Such attitudes stem in part from the millions of dollars Romney’s campaign and its allies spent on advertising to “crush” Santorum and other conservatives in the race, Viguerie said.

“He’s got a mountain to climb,” Viguerie said of Romney.

Although Santorum may not be a contender for the vice presidential slot, Romney could come under pressure to choose someone who, like his rival, appeals to voters motivated by social issues such as their opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage.

“That would please conservatives,” said Viguerie.

Romney and his aides are reaching out to elements of the party that have been cool to him. He will have a chance to demonstrate his pro-gun-rights credentials in an April 13 address to a National Rifle Association meeting in St. Louis.

With Santorum out of the race, Romney also can more easily appeal to independents who may decide the general election, said Frank Donatelli, chairman of the national Republican advocacy group GOPAC.

Aiming at Democrats

“Republicans aren’t shooting at each other; we are finally aiming at the Democrats,” Donatelli said. “That will change the perception of Romney pretty quickly.”

Santorum’s decision to end his candidacy, which he announced to supporters gathered in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, spares him a potentially embarrassing loss in his home state. Recent polls showed Romney in position to win Pennsylvania’s April 24 primary, and a Santorum loss could have undermined the cachet he’s built within his party.

Advice to Santorum

Viguerie, who spoke with Santorum yesterday, said he encouraged him to “stay engaged,” and “step forward and be the conservative leader” among Republicans.

Although Viguerie said there was no conversation about a possible 2016 presidential bid, he said Santorum could be a leading candidate should Romney fail to unseat Obama.

For Romney, the practical end of the primary campaign signals the start of another, as he is now able to focus entirely on Obama and building a general-election apparatus. Obama’s re-election campaign has viewed Romney as his likely foe for most of the past year, and yesterday it quickly echoed Santorum’s criticism.

“Mitt Romney finally was able to grind down his opponents under an avalanche of negative ads,” Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, said in a statement. “But neither he nor his special-interest allies will be able to buy the presidency with their negative attacks. The more the American people see of Mitt Romney, the less they like him.”

Santorum, 53, repeatedly in recent weeks called Romney, 65, “uniquely disqualified” to lead his party’s fight against Obama. Central to that argument was Romney’s support, during his governorship, of a Massachusetts statute containing a mandate to purchase health-care insurance similar to the one included in the law Obama pushed through Congress in 2010. The Supreme Court (1000L) now is weighing the constitutionality of the federal measure.

Santorum’s Rise

Santorum, who called Romney before his announcement, didn’t endorse him or even utter his name during his 13-minute exit speech. He highlighted his rise from a minor candidate given little chance in the Republican field to his emergence as Romney’s main challenger, and said he planned to keep fighting for those he had met along the campaign trail.

“We are going to continue to go out there and fight to make sure that we defeat” Obama, he said.

Romney, in a statement, lauded Santorum as “an able and worthy competitor” who has “proven himself to be an important voice in our party and in the nation.”

Romney offered more praise of Santorum at a rally later in the day in Wilmington, Delaware, while also saying: “This has been a good day for me.”

He also struck back against charges by Democrats that Republicans are waging a “war on women” in such areas as contraception -- another major challenge his campaign confronts.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Obama ahead of Romney among women voters by 19 percentage points. Among all registered voters surveyed April 5-8, Obama leads Romney by 7 points, 51 percent to 44 percent.

“The real war on women has been waged by the Obama administration’s failure on the economy,” Romney said at his rally.

To contact the reporters on this story: John McCormick in Chicago at jmccormick16@bloomberg.net; Lisa Lerer in Wilmington, Delaware, at llerer@bloomberg.net

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

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