From NBC/NJ's Erin McPike
NASHVILLE -- With rising poll numbers in California, Romney feels like a resurgent candidate. Similar to Obama in New Hampshire after his Iowa win when he said if he won the Granite State, he'd win the White House, Romney said to reporters here today, "If I win California, that means you're going to have a conservative in the White House."
So Romney's making a last-ditch effort by flying back to the Golden State for an evening rally tonight in Long Beach, where he campaigned late last week. Asked what he thought the addition of one rally would do for his prospects there, he said, "I can tell you it's a lot better than not going to California." And he added, "I think it communicates to people in California that the entire nation is watching California and what they're going to do."
Romney also pointed out that the dynamics of the race have forced a shifting strategy by McCain. "I understand that we've now brought Sen. McCain back to California, too," Romney said. "He's like, 'Oh wow, Romney's there -- I better go back there and see if I can't shore up the race there.' But he's sliding in California."
He wasn't the only one who had some choice words for and about McCain today. Romney was joined by Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn (who originally supported Romney before switching to Thompson and is now back with the former Massachusetts governor) and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. The Pennsylvanian said at the Pancake Pantry that he's been on the fence over whom to support for a long time, but that he thinks now Romney is the only real conservative choice.
"It would be a sad day, a sad day if the state of Tennessee passes on the opportunity speak loudly on Super Tuesday, to speak with a conservative voice," Santorum said. "And if Tennessee wants to speak with a conservative voice, if it wants to show the Republican Party and the bigwigs who are lining up like lemmings behind the nominee, if they want to show the bigwigs in Washington who is in charge of this party, it's the conservative heartland that is in charge of this party, then you only have one choice, one choice: not Mike Huckabee, not Ron Paul, certainly not John McCain. It's Mitt Romney."
It wasn't just McCain that Romney went after. Asked who he would rather face in a general election, Romney laughed and said he'd just like to face a Democrat and then slammed them both. "You know, I think in Barack Obama's case, the fact that he's never had any leadership experience -- virtually of any kind would be something that would be pointed out by me if I'm the nominee," Romney said. "And in Sen. Clinton's case, she's had an opportunity to get things done, she just hasn't been able to do it."
Although Romney's losing his voice and said he can get through the next 36 hours but then will need some "R and R" for his vocal chords, he boldly declared, "This is the day before Super Tuesday. I'm going to be going across the country. This is a 24-hour nonstop effort. We're gonna make sure and see as many people as we possibly can."
All that campaigning may explain away why Romney hasn't been briefed yet on the new budget by President Bush out this morning and said he can't comment yet.
But for a candidate who's gotten testy on more than one occasion over what he'd propose as a budget, because he hasn't been ready to release that in the past, he finally opened the door to doing so soon. "I've been putting together my own plan for what I'd do with our budget," he said. "There are a number of things I'd like to do." Perhaps the newly press-friendly candidate will be giving the media more red meat soon.