Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney reached out to party lawmakers in Washington yesterday, telling them at one gathering he is seeking the White House “to save the country,” said U.S. Senator Jim DeMint.
DeMint, a South Carolina Republican who helped anti-tax, Tea Party-backed candidates win Senate seats in 2010, said Romney provided the assurance he wanted that the former Massachusetts governor shared his view about the importance of this year’s presidential election.
“That’s what I needed to hear, and I think everyone in the room needed to hear, that really our country’s at stake, and we want a president who understands that this is not business as usual,” DeMint told reporters. “What we got from him is a sense of urgency that our country’s in trouble and we need some real leadership.”
DeMint declined to identify others who were at the same session with him, held near the U.S. Capitol.
Romney also met with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and other Republicans from Wisconsin, which holds its primary April 3, and congressional delegations from Pennsylvania and Texas, which also have primaries later this year, Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.
Romney, who had no public events yesterday, spends today campaigning in Louisiana ahead of the state’s primary tomorrow. Polls show Rick Santorum, his chief rival in the Republican race, leading among Louisiana’s likely primary voters.
DeMint, who has said he won’t endorse a Republican presidential candidate until the party settles on a nominee, declined to comment on whether Romney explicitly asked lawmakers to back him.
DeMint said he is untroubled by Romney’s role in enacting a health-care measure in Massachusetts that resembles the federal plan pushed into law by President Barack Obama -- a consistent criticism the former governor has faced in the Republican race. The Massachusetts law is “very different than a federal model that you can’t change,” DeMint said.
He also defended Romney’s commitment to conservative causes a day after renewed questions about the candidate’s consistency were raised by an aide’s comment that referred to the Etch A Sketch children’s toy.
“I’ve known him for a number of years, so I really don’t have the questions that we hear the media say about his conservative credentials,” DeMint said of Romney.
Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, responding to a question on whether his boss will be hurt in a general election contest by positions he has taken in the primary fight, said on CNN March 21 that, “You hit a reset button for the fall campaign.”
Fehrnstrom continued: “Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.”
Romney’s rivals zeroed in on Etch A Sketch as symbolizing their complaints about him, with Santorum and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich immediately using it as a prop at campaign appearances. Santorum’s campaign also passed out the toy to reporters.
Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, pressed the analogy yesterday in San Antonio, as he argued that Republicans must focus on offering a clear choice to voters in order to defeat Obama in November.
If the party’s nominee is going to be just “a little different,” he said, according to the Associated Press, “we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate for the future.”
Romney, who rarely comments to reporters after campaign appearances, did so in Arbutus, Maryland, on March 21 after Fehrnstrom’s Etch A Sketch comment gained traction.
“The issues I’m running on will be exactly the same” in a general election, he told reporters after a speech. “I’m running as a conservative Republican. I was a conservative Republican governor. I’ll be running as a conservative Republican nominee.”
Another Romney aide yesterday advanced the campaign’s case that the Republican race is essentially over and the time has arrived to focus on Obama.
“Each day Senator Santorum continues to march up this steep hill of improbability is a day we lose to unite in our effort as Republicans to defeat” the president, Romney political director Rich Beeson said in an e-mail to reporters. “So as Senator Santorum continues to drag out this already expensive, negative campaign, it is clear that he is becoming the most valuable player on President Obama’s team.”
Romney has 563 of the 1,144 delegates needed for the nomination, according to the AP’s tally. Santorum has 263 delegates, to Gingrich’s 135 and Texas congressman Ron Paul’s 50, according to the AP.