Mitt Romney is remaking his campaign into a machine to take on President Barack Obama while keeping one eye on finishing off his Republican rivals, as chief challenger Rick Santorum grasps for a strategy to keep his nomination bid alive.
Romney barnstormed Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania yesterday after a run of primary victories that solidified his hold on his party’s nomination. Yet he made it clear his focus is less on prevailing in the state’s April 24 primary -- which he said he expects Santorum to win as the native son -- and more on making the state a battleground against Obama in November.
“I need only one thing from you guys, and that’s to make sure I beat Barack Obama in November,” Romney told voters in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, where he visited Mountain Energy Services Inc., a company that supplies trucks and equipment to the oil and gas industry in the Marcellus and Utica shales.
In a mark of the combative general election campaign to come, Obama and his campaign aides took to Twitter to accuse Romney of trying to hide his wealth and call on him to release his tax returns, after a Washington Post report that he has used ethics rules to limit his financial disclosures.
Romney spent the day eviscerating Obama’s economic record, including charging that he has been an “anti-energy president” who has done everything in his power to hamper the development of oil, gas and coal resources.
Harder for Economy
“Almost everything he did made it harder for the economy to recover, and he tries to look around and find someone else to blame for almost every single one of his failures,” Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said.
Santorum, 53, trailing far behind Romney in the nominating race, met with social conservative leaders to discuss overhauling his flagging bid after his recent string of primary losses. The former Pennsylvania senator is weighing changes to reinvigorate his campaign as he works to prevent a defeat in Pennsylvania that could end his candidacy.
“Everybody recognizes we’ve got to do things differently,” said Richard Viguerie, a veteran Republican strategist who has been advising Santorum and said he attended two meetings with him yesterday in the Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, area. “The most important thing is how do we get control of the narrative, or become part of the national political discussion. Right now, the campaign has lost control of the narrative out there.”
Romney, 65, intent on continuing to drive that narrative, sought yesterday to damp expectations he would win Pennsylvania’s primary even as he looked toward November.
Winning Home State
“I think everybody expects someone to win their home state,” Romney said of Santorum during a stop at his Pennsylvania campaign headquarters in Harrisburg, where he spent a few minutes phone-banking with volunteers. “I do believe that I will win Pennsylvania in the fall, and winning Pennsylvania will give us the White House, so it’s a critical state for me.”
Not waiting for the end of the primary season, Romney is overhauling his campaign to target Obama, repair damage to his image inflicted during the Republican contest and broaden his appeal to voters. As one step in that process, he is bringing on Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a former top adviser to President George W. Bush, as a senior adviser, the campaign said yesterday.
Romney tried out a more inclusive message -- laced with criticism of Obama -- in Harrisburg.
“This isn’t about one person, or about even one party,” Romney told supporters on the roof of the building that houses his office. “We’re Republicans and Democrats in this campaign, but we’re all connected with one destiny for America.”
Time at Harvard
“We have a president who I think is a nice guy, but he spent too much time at Harvard, perhaps, or maybe just not enough time working in the real world,” said Romney, a former private-equity executive who also has a law degree, as well as a business degree, from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Romney has ceased referring to Santorum or any of his rivals in public appearances, instead focusing on portraying Obama as an “out-of-touch” leader who has hurt the economic recovery and is running a “hide-and-seek” campaign to obscure his record and plans for the country.
Obama’s campaign fired back at Romney, saying he was mischaracterizing the president’s record and had switched his own position on energy policy to suit his political goals.
Romney “has advocated a backward-looking drilling-and-drilling-alone strategy that wouldn’t allow America to take control of our energy future,” Ben LaBolt, Obama’s campaign press secretary said in a statement. “The position Romney says he has today may come as a surprise to the Republican primary voters Governor Romney made an entirely different set of promises to, attacking investments in clean energy as he campaigned across the country.”
Budd Beamer, a retired truck driver and steel worker from Montrose, Pennsylvania, who came to see Romney in Tunkhannock, said he is a recent convert from the “anyone-but-Romney” column. He said he now leans toward backing the ex-governor because he is so intent on getting Obama out of the White House.
“Looks like we’re going to go with Romney,” Beamer said as he waited to hear him speak. “He’s not our first choice, but it looks like he’s got the numbers and the momentum, and it’s looking like it’s pretty much of a done deal.”
Need for Change
“This administration’s run this country into the ground and bled it for all it’s worth, and we’re in dire need of a change,” Beamer added.
After the latest round of voting, Romney has 658 delegates, according to an Associated Press tally. That is more than half the 1,144 needed to capture the nomination. Santorum has 281 delegates, meaning he would need to collect about three-fourths of those remaining to win the party’s nod while Romney -- who has won about 58 percent of the delegates so far -- would need to win just over 40 percent. Newt Gingrich, a former U.S. House speaker, trails with 135 delegates and U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas has 51.
Gingrich Group LLC, a health-care advocacy group founded by the candidate, sought bankruptcy protection yesterday from creditors without citing a reason. Gingrich Group, which operates the Center for Health Transformation, listed debts of as much as $10 million and assets of less than $100,000 in documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Atlanta, where it is based.