Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigned in South Carolina today in a bid to cement his status as the race’s front-runner while rivals took aim at him in New Hampshire, site of the next primary.
Romney kept his sights on President Barack Obama in his comments at an outside rally in Charleston this afternoon that drew about 550 people.
“He’s a job killer, he doesn’t mean to be, he just is,” Romney said of Obama. “He’s making America’s economy weaker and that will stop when he’s no longer president.”
The South Carolina stop, which includes an event in Myrtle Beach tomorrow, showed Romney’s confidence in the lead polls show he holds in New Hampshire and his campaign’s ability to fight on multiple fronts. Wins in New Hampshire on Jan. 10 and South Carolina’s Jan. 21 primary would firmly establish him as the candidate to beat for the Republican nomination and might force others out.
Romney was joined at his Charleston event by fellow Republicans Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s governor, and Arizona Senator John McCain, who bested Romney in becoming the party’s 2008 presidential nominee and endorsed him yesterday in New Hampshire.
Rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum stayed put in New Hampshire and tried to chip away at Romney there, arguing that the former governor of Massachusetts isn’t conservative enough.
“There is a very big difference in our two sets of values,” Gingrich, a former U.S. House speaker, said at a seniors’ center in Plymouth, New Hampshire. “I don’t believe a Massachusetts moderate is in a very good position to debate Barack Obama.”
Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, criticized Romney and Gingrich for in the past supporting mandates to buy health insurance.
“You need to nominate someone who presents a very clear contrast” with the president, Santorum said at a Rotary Club breakfast in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Romney has the backing of 41 percent of likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire, according to a two-day Suffolk University/7 News tracking poll released today. U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas got the support of 18 percent, compared with 8 percent for Santorum and 7 percent for both Gingrich and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr.
Huntsman last night won the endorsement of the Boston Globe, which has a large circulation in New Hampshire.
Romney also has started advertising in Florida, which holds its primary Jan. 31. He has become the main target of attacks from rivals after winning the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, beating Santorum by eight votes. Each got just under 25 percent of the vote. Paul finished third and Gingrich came in fourth.
The results in Iowa prompted Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann to drop out after a sixth-place finish. The fifth-place finisher, Texas Governor Rick Perry, signaled through a posting on Twitter that he is skipping New Hampshire to focus on South Carolina.
Paul, who arrives in New Hampshire tomorrow, is running a radio advertisement in the state disputing Romney’s central campaign argument that he is the Republican best able to beat Obama.
“Romney’s record is liberal, and putting him up against Obama is a recipe for defeat,” the ad announcer says.
Santorum, who spent most of the year lagging in polls and campaign cash before surging in Iowa, targeted Romney in a fundraising appeal.
“Now is the time to act or get stuck with a bland, boring career politician who will lose to Barack Obama,” he wrote.
Today, Santorum zeroed in on a Massachusetts law that Romney signed that requires everyone to buy health insurance, just as the 2010 federal law backed by Obama does. Gingrich also once supported the idea of mandating coverage as part of a broader overhaul. He has reversed that position.
“I’ve never been for government-run health care -- never - - unlike the other two folks who are running here that supported individual mandates, that supported top-down government health care,” Santorum said.
The Gingrich campaign today had former Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire and former Representative Bob McEwen of Ohio criticize Romney in a conference call with reporters.
“Who is going to rally for Obama Lite?” McEwen said. “A Massachusetts moderate is not going to make the clarion call that the American people feel” is needed, he said.
Separately, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center in Washington today released a study showing Romney’s tax proposal would add $600 billion to the U.S. budget deficit in 2015. The analysis compares the revenue that Romney’s tax-code changes would generate compared with expected U.S. revenue under current law, which assumes that several income tax cuts will expire as scheduled at the end of 2012.
The analysis said Romney’s plan would “reduce federal tax revenues substantially” though not as deeply as some of his opponents. In a separate study released Dec. 12, the Tax Policy Center said Gingrich’s tax plan would add $1.3 trillion to the budget deficit in 2015.