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In Ohio push, Romney maintains economic focus

 

CANTON, OH -- Mitt Romney opened his final day of campaigning in Ohio with a focus on the economy, a simple, disciplined message his campaign hopes will propel him to victory in this key Super Tuesday state.

"If you think this campaign against President Obama is going to be about the economy, and jobs, and government being too big, then I’m the guy you need to nominate. That's what I know. That's what I've done," Romney said this morning in remarks described by a campaign aide as his "closing arugment."

Romney has sought throughout the campaign to focus on the economy and his record as governor, and in the private sector. But the GOP primary battle has found itself stuck more on social issues over the past month -- issues that helped boost former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum enough to mount a credible challenge to Romney.

Romney has closed his deficit against Santorum in Ohio to a gap within the margin of error, according to the latest round of polling in the state. A top Romney adviser credited the candidate's economic focus and robust ground game for the campaign's momentum in the Buckeye State.

"[Romney] has been surging this week just because he’s boots on the ground, spreading his pro-jobs message," Senior Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told reporters before the first of three campaign stops today. "He’s not like other candidates who get distracted by non-economic issues. He stays focused on the economy and I think that more than anything else explains why he’s surging.”

True to form, Romney used a lesson learned in his private equity career as a rhetorical weapon against President Obama this morning.

"We used to have, we used to joke, three rules for turning around an enterprise in trouble, and the rules were these: focus, focus and focus," Romney explained.

"When our president came into office there was one key job in front of him; and that was to get this economy going and put people back to work. But instead of focusing his energy on that topic, he instead went off on a whole series of other things he wanted to do," Romney said. "He focused on a whole series of things other than the job at hand. And one of the reasons we're having such difficulty coming out of the downturn we're in is because the president has failed to focus on what was most important to America, which is getting good jobs again."

Romney also turned his economic-focused message against his Republican rivals, although not by name.

"Other people in this race have debated about the economy, they've read about the economy, they've talked about it in subcommittee meetings, but I've actually been in it," Romney said. "I've worked in business. I understand what it takes to get a business successful and to thrive. I understand how it is that government gets in the way."

As the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows Romney once again regaining the lead nationally for the Republican nomination, with 38 percent of respondents backing the former Massachusetts governor. Fehrnstrom also suggested that regardless of the results of Tuesday's contests, the party appears to be coalescing around Romney.

"You saw yesterday Eric Cantor endorsed, followed by Senator Coburn in Oklahoma. This morning former Missouri Governor and Attorney General John Ashcroft endorsed," Fehrnstrom said. "So the party has already begun to coalesce behind Mitt Romney and we expect that we will pick up more endorsements after Tuesday."

That rallying around Romney, if it's happening, can't come soon enough. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll also showed Romney's favorabilty rating dropping to 28 percent from 31 percent in January, with Republican pollster Bill McInturff describing the effect of the elongated primary as "corrosive" to the Republican brand.