BILOXI, Miss. — Republican presidential contenders and their super PAC supporters campaigned aggressively on land, through the mail and over the airwaves Monday on the eve of primaries in Alabama and Mississippi with the potential to solidify or shake Mitt Romney's standing as front-runner.
In the Deep South, one of the most conservative regions of the country, Romney and his Republican rivals polished their credentials with attacks on President Barack Obama's handling of the economy and the nation's use of energy. "The dangers of carbon dioxide? Tell that to a plant, how dangerous carbon dioxide is," said Rick Santorum.
But those criticisms were mere warmup for the candidates going after each other. Gingrich is struggling for survival in today's primaries, and Santorum is laboring to redeem his claim that Romney can't secure the support of conservatives.
"If the opportunity provides itself in an open convention, they're not going to nominate a moderate Massachusetts governor who has been outspending his opponent 10-1 and can't win the election outright," Santorum said in a TV interview.
Romney countered, also on TV. "We're closing the deal, state by state, delegate by delegate," he said, emphasizing his lead in the category that matters most.
He has more delegates than his rivals combined, and is amassing them at a rate that puts him on track to clinch control of the nomination before the convention opens in late August in Tampa, a prospect that his rivals prefer not to dwell on.
Ahead of today's primaries, Restore Our Future, a super PAC that supports Romney, aired ads critical of Santorum for having voted in Congress to provide federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and attacking Gingrich for supporting action to combat climate change through cleaner sources of energy.
The same organization hit Santorum in mail sent to thousands of homes in Alabama.
Red, White and Blue Fund, which backs Santorum, aired commercials saying that Romney and President Barack Obama "aren't much different" on key issues such as federal spending and supporting a requirement for individuals to purchase health care coverage. That's a reference to a Massachusetts law that Romney signed in his home state that bears similarities to the legislation Obama won from Congress.
Gingrich's campaign is advertising at lower levels, including a commercial that hits Obama for high gas prices.