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Taking fight to Santorum, Romney predicts extended primary battle

 

ATLANTA —Predicting an extended nominating fight, Mitt Romney said Wednesday he didn't expect the GOP primary season to result in a "coronation," all while downplaying a sweep of three nominating contests last night by Rick Santorum. 

Romney said he still expected to become the Republican Party's nominee against President Obama this fall, but seemed to brace for a longer-than-expected path to the nomination. 

“We think we can beat Sen. Santorum where we compete head-to-head in an aggressive way, and we obviously didn’t do that in Colorado or Minnesota to the extent that the other campaign did," Romney said on an airport Tarmac here in Georgia. "There will certainly be places where he wins, and there will be places where I win. There’s no such thing as coronations in presidential politics. It’s meant to be a long process. It’s not easy to get the nomination, it’s not easy to be elected president and this is a testing ... a testing approach. And so far we’re doing pretty well.”

Last night's contests — in which no delegates were awarded, Romney's campaign was quick to point out — did not, however, go so well for Romney. He suffered double digit defeats in Minnesota, where he won four years ago, and in Missouri, where Newt Gingrich did not appear on the ballot. In Colorado, a state where Romney competed actively and where the campaign seemed confident of a win, he lost by five points to Santorum.

Asked today about lessons learned in the defeat, Romney came out swinging, lumping Santorum together with Gingrich as a creature of Washington, and blaming both men for fostering a spending and earmark culture that ultimately hurt the Republican party, and spawned the Tea Party movement. The former Massachusetts governor said he did not respond to attacks while campaigning in Nevada, but that going forward he would make differences between himself and his opponents "very clear."

"Under Newt Gingrich earmarks doubled. Rick Santorum was a major earmarker and continues to defend earmarks. Under Rick Santorum he voted to raise the debt ceiling I believe five different times to a tune of about an addition $3.5 trillion," Romney said. "I believe that while Sen. Santorum was serving in congress and the Senate, government spending increased by some 80%.  Republicans spent too much money, borrowed too much money, earmarked too much, and Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have to be held accountable."

Romney followed up with a spending-based attack on Santorum at a rally later on: "During Sen. Santorum's time in Washington, government grew 80 percent. And he voted to raise the debt ceiling five times."

Perhaps looking to reclaim his economy-oriented message, Romney turned his attack on Santorum and Gingrich into an attack on borrowing and spending more broadly, and hammered his point home.

"When Republicans act like Democrats, they lose.  And in Newt Gingrich’s case he had to resign.  In Rick Santorum’s case, he lost by the biggest margin of any Senate incumbent since 1980. Again, borrowing, spending, and earmarking is not a good combination if you’re a Republican and not a good combination, in my view, for America," Romney said.