Mitt Romney seeks a three-way sweep over Rick Santorum in today’s Republican presidential primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia as he pivots his focus almost entirely to President Barack Obama and November’s general election.
Romney didn’t mention Santorum during his final campaign appearances in Wisconsin as he expressed increasing confidence that he will claim his party’s nomination. Favored in all of today’s contests, Romney is counting on a victory in Wisconsin - - the most competitive -- 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 today in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha.
Intrade, an online exchange where investors buy shares in a market that bets on political outcomes, suggests Romney has a 96.1 percent chance of winning Wisconsin. The state is one of about a dozen where the general election is expected to be closest, based on polling and past outcomes.
Targeting Obama, Romney told those gathered in the sandwich shop that 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.
‘Credit or Blame’
“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.
Minutes after Romney spoke, Obama criticized the former Massachusetts governor by name and mocked him for describing as “marvelous” the U.S. House-passed budget that would overhaul Medicare and cut domestic programs while lowering taxes for high earners.
“He said that he’s very supportive of this new budget and he even called it ‘marvelous,’ which is a word you don’t often hear when it comes to describing budgets,” Obama said at an Associated Press luncheon in Washington. “It’s a word you don’t often hear generally.”
Romney, commenting later in the day on Sean Hannity’s talk radio show, accused Obama of misrepresenting his policies and called the president’s speech a “disingenuous, fear-mongered approach.”
As Romney, 65, wrapped up his campaigning in Wisconsin, he was accompanied for the fifth consecutive day 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.
As was the case in Michigan’s Feb. 28 primary -- which Romney won by three percentage points -- the Wisconsin primary is open, meaning independents and Democrats can vote in it. That offers an element of uncertainty as both campaigns await the results after the polls close at 9 p.m. eastern time.
Santorum, 53, was fundraising today in Austin, Texas, before flying to his home state of Pennsylvania for an election-night rally, campaign manager Mike Biundo said.
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.
Biundo challenged the notion that April would be a tough month for the Santorum campaign.
“They’ve written our obituary before,” he said in an interview.
Biundo said Santorum would spend the bulk of the next three weeks in Pennsylvania, as well as 10 Republican-leaning congressional districts in New York where the candidate will be seeking to win delegates in the state’s primary.
“I feel really good about Pennsylvania and I think we feel good about May,” Biundo said. “We see some good contests coming up for us.”
Biundo charged that Romney campaign is trying to end the nomination fight early to avoid more competitive contests in the southern U.S. in May, including primaries in North Carolina, West Virginia, Arkansas and Kentucky.
“They know that May is going to be a good month” for Santorum and “would like to shut the door down here,” he said. “That’s wishful thinking on their part.”
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.
Romney said today that it would be best for Republicans to bring a rapid end to the nomination contest.
“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 on Fox News.
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.
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.
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.
The biggest prize today is Wisconsin, where 42 of today’s 98 delegates are at stake. The statewide winner will get 18 and the rest will be awarded winner-take-all based on the outcome in each of eight congressional districts.
Romney and his allies dominated broadcast television advertising during the Wisconsin campaign, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising.
Romney’s campaign and Restore Our Future, a political action committee backing him, have aired seven spots for every two by Santorum’s campaign and Red White and Blue Fund, a PAC promoting him.
Through April 2, Romney and his allies had run 5,272 commercials in the state at a cost of $2 million, compared to 1,510 for Santorum and his backers at a cost of $482,000.