Sunday, February 18, 2018

Romney looks to general election as Santorum fades

PEWAUKEE, Wis. — Appearing ever-more confident in Wisconsin's primary, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney focused entirely on President Barack Obama during a campaign trip through this upper Midwestern battleground that could effectively seal the nomination for him Tuesday.

Fading rival Rick Santorum sought to stoke doubts about Romney's conservative credentials on the last weekend of campaigning before the critical showdown. It is Santorum's last chance to prove his strength in the industrial heartland, where he has said he can challenge Obama but where Romney has beaten him consistently.

Still, Romney nodded toward evangelical conservatives Saturday, acknowledging the doubts that linger with these voters and foreshadowing the balancing act that will face him in the months to come.

He on Saturday veered slightly from the strict general election message he has offered since winning big in the Illinois primary.

"We were endowed by our creator with our rights. Not the king, not the state, but our creator," Romney told more than 1,000 Wisconsin conservatives at a Faith and Freedom Coalition meeting in the heart of GOP-heavy Waukesha County. The county, just west of Milwaukee, is home to the state's largest evangelical megachurches.

Romney received a healthy if not thunderous ovation from the group. However, Santorum, who has counted on like-minded activists in winning across the Bible Belt, did not do much better in his appearance before the group. He said Romney's enactment of sweeping health care legislation as Massachusetts governor disqualified him from challenging Obama.

With about half of the GOP nominating contests complete, Romney has won 54 percent of the delegates at stake, putting him on track to reach the threshold 1,144 national convention delegates in June.

Santorum, who has won 27 percent of the delegates at stake, would need to win 74 percent of the remaining delegates. GOP rival Newt Gingrich would need 85 percent.

Maryland and the District of Columbia also hold primaries Tuesday. Santorum is not on the D.C. ballot but could pick up delegates in Wisconsin and Maryland, although Romney is favored in both states.

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