Romney rivals make final NH appeals
MANCHESTER, N.H. - January 9, 2012 (WPVI) -- Knowing Mitt Romney is probably unstoppable in New Hampshire, his Republican presidential rivals took their best shots at roughing him up for the contests ahead in Monday's fast-paced finale of the campaign for the nation's first primary.
Romney floated above the fray, as if already picked to take on President Barack Obama.
The former Massachusetts governor, who had practically adopted New Hampshire as his home, preached a free-enterprise ethic and against an interfering government in the final hours before Tuesday's voting. His GOP opponents quickened their drumbeat of criticism against him.
RELATED: Action News' Brian Taff continues his reports from New Hampshire
Declaring "I don't believe in unilateral disarmament," Newt Gingrich promised a tougher tone in the race, which he already previewed in weekend debates. "Mitt Romney cannot campaign with a straight face as a conservative," said the former House speaker, soon to be aided by an ad campaign in South Carolina assailing Romney and his record in the private sector.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, rocked on his heels by a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses, echoed Gingrich's line of attack from South Carolina, having passed up the New Hampshire race.
"I have no doubt that Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips - whether he'd have enough of them to hand out," Perry told several dozen breakfast patrons in Anderson, S.C. That was a slap at Romney's recent comment that he worried about getting a pink slip during his executive career.
Perry cited South Carolina companies that downsized under the control of Bain Capital, the private equity firm Romney ran, and said it would be an "insult" for Romney to come to the state and ask for voters' support in easing economic pain.
"He caused it," Perry said, describing himself as best positioned to untangle the "unholy alliance between Washington and Wall Street."
Alone among the half dozen contenders, Perry bypassed New Hampshire. But several others are looking to South Carolina, too, to help level the playing field, conceding Romney's advantage in his neighborhood.
One of them was Rick Santorum, who came within eight votes of upsetting Romney in Iowa only to find New Hampshire a tough sell.
"Second place would be a dream come true," Santorum told reporters, who outnumbered supporters on a chilly soccer field in Nashua, N.H., on Monday morning. "Applauding with gloves on isn't particularly effective," he told the people who came to see him. "Keep your hands in your pockets and stay warm."
Santorum is hoping his social conservative credentials will serve him better in South Carolina, which votes Jan. 21.
The candidates were all but tripping over each other Monday, concentrating their day in the southern half of New Hampshire, known for holding town-hall meetings in actual town halls.
Ron Paul visited a Manchester diner in the morning, planning to shake hands with patrons, but swiftly departed because of a crush of news camera crews.
The Texas congressman told Fox News his campaign did not plan to contest Florida, which holds its primary Jan. 31, largely for financial reasons. But he said the plan could change if he did well in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
"We have to consider the best way to use our resources," he said. "We're still taking one week at a time, one primary at a time."
Jon Huntsman, who needs a strong New Hampshire performance to stay viable in the race, had perhaps the most frantic pace Monday, with seven stops on his itinerary from Lebanon near the Vermont line to the seacoast.
The former Utah governor visited a Lebanon truck stop and took the phone from an employee behind the counter who was speaking with a milk delivery driver. He said he's looking for votes wherever he can find them. "I'm the underdog," he said, a label that applies - at least in New Hampshire - to anyone but Romney.
In Nashua, Romney kept his focus on Obama. He criticized the administration for the soured taxpayer investment in Solyndra, a solar energy company that went bankrupt and laid off its 1,100 workers after getting a $528 million Energy Department loan.
He said government should support the conditions for letting the private sector work freely, not interfere on behalf of specific companies. "Let markets work," he said.
Gingrich, still smarting from a damaging barrage of negative ads in Iowa by Romney allies, vowed to draw a "very sharp contrast" with Romney, political shorthand for counterattacking. That effort was evident in weekend debates, when the former House speaker upbraided Romney for "pious baloney," and it will become more so thanks to a new film, sponsored by a political committee supportive of Gingrich, that accuses Romney of "reaping massive awards" at Bain Capital at the expense of companies taken over by the firm.
Gingrich hastened to say he hadn't seen the film, just as Romney tried to maintain an arm's length from the anti-Gingrich political committee ads in Iowa. But Gingrich said pointedly that he understands the film looks at "where they apparently looted the companies."
Romney has bragged about creating more than 100,000 jobs at companies he helped start up or turn around while at Bain but has not substantiated the claim. Gingrich said on NBC's "Today" show that voters deserve more than that.
"He owes us a report on his stewardship" in the private sector, Gingrich said.
A pro-Gingrich political action committee, Winning Our Future, will purchase $3.4 million in air time in South Carolina to run ads, said Rick Tyler, a former Gingrich aide who is helping lead the effort.
Gingrich acknowledged he was stepping away from his pledge to run a positive campaign.
"This is not my first preference for how to run the campaign," he said. "But I don't believe in unilateral disarmament. And I don't believe if the other person sets the standard of being very tough that you can back off or you look like you can't defend yourself.
"And whoever is going to end up competing against Barack Obama is going to have to be very tough."
Associated Press writers Brian Bakst in Anderson, S.C., and Holly Ramer, Brian Bakst, Shannon McCaffrey, Philip Elliott and Kasie Hunt in New Hampshire contributed to this report.
election, republicans, new hampshire, mitt romney, rick santorum, rick perry, newt gingrich, national/world
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