A triumphant and increasingly confident Mitt Romney stepped up his assault on President Obama Tuesday night, telling a cheering crowd of supporters in Wisconsin that the president’s policies have shortchanged the economic recovery, driven up gasoline prices and undermined America’s image abroad.
As he celebrated three important primary victories in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia, Romney eagerly engaged in a tit-for-tat exchange with the president as a prelude to the fall campaign.
With growing signs that the former Massachusetts governor has all but sewn up the Republican presidential nomination, Romney ignored his GOP rivals and aimed his toughest salvos at the president.
“Under this President's watch, more Americans have lost their jobs than during any other period since the Depression,” Romney said in Milwaukee. “Millions have lost their homes, and a record number of Americans are living in poverty. And the most vulnerable have been hurt the most -- over 30 percent of single moms are struggling in poverty. New business startups are at the lowest level in 30 years, and our national debt is at a record high. And when you drive home tonight and stop at a gas station, just take a look at the prices and ask yourself, ‘Four more years?’”
Responding in kind to Obama’s claim that Romney and the Republicans are out of touch with middle-class Americans, Romney said of Obama, “It's enough to make you think that years of flying around on Air Force One, surrounded by an adoring staff of true believers telling you what a great job you are doing, well, that might be enough to make you a little out of touch.”
Earlier in the day, Obama delivered a stinging rebuke to a new House Republican budget plan that was endorsed by Romney that calls for deep cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other social safety-net programs while providing deep tax cuts for the wealthy. The president charged that his Republican rivals were attempting to impose a “radical vision” on the nation by creating a form of “social Darwinism” that pits the nation’s poorest families against the rich.
For the first time since launching his reelection effort a year ago, Obama mentioned Romney by name, mocking him for describing as “marvelous” the House-passed budget drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Ryan has campaigned with Romney in Wisconsin in recent days and has been mentioned as a possible runningmate.
“This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class,” the president said. “I can’t remember a time when the choice between competing visions of our future has been so unambiguously clear.’
“A GOVERNMENT-CENTERED SOCIETY”
In his speech last night, Romney sought to draw a sharp distinction between what he called Obama’s “government-centered society” in which government is called upon to raise and spend more and more revenue for its citizens and Romney’s opportunistic society in which government cuts taxes, eliminates out-of-date regulations and encourages its citizens to succeed on their own.
“In Barack Obama’s government-centered society, government spending always increases because, well, why not? There is always someone who is entitled to something more, and is willing to vote for anyone who will give them something more. . . .And it leads to chronic high unemployment, crushing debt and stagnant wages. Begins to sound familiar, isn’t it?”
“I don’t want to transform America,” Romney added. “I want to restore to America the economic values of freedom and opportunity and limited government that made us the power house of the world.”
He added, “These last few years have been difficult, made worse by mistakes and failures of leadership.”
“In this last year, I have been all over this country, from student union cafeterias to kitchen tables, from factory break rooms to boardrooms, and I’ve heard frustration and anger but rarely hopelessness. A lot of Americans have given up on this President but they haven’t ever thought about giving up. Not on themselves. Not on each other. And not on America.”
As part of a new strategy, Romney is all but ignoring his fast-fading primary challengers and instead is focusing his attacks on Obama, arguing that the president has failed as a leader – and that this has cost the U.S. some of its stature overseas. Romney has not so subtly shifted from primary to general election campaign mode, and has tailored his speeches to attack Obama on everything from gas prices and inadequate oil and gas exploration to the president’s dealings with Iran and the Middle East. “We’ll stop the days of apologizing for success at home and never again apologize for America abroad,” he said.
Romney beat Santorum in Wisconsin, 42 percent to 38 percent, according to partial returns, with Rep. Ron Paul of Texas picking up 12 percent and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia receiving only 6 percent. Romney topped Santorum in Maryland, 47 percent to 30 percent, while gaining more than 70 percent of the vote in the District of Columbia.
Santorum made more than two dozen campaign stops in Wisconsin in the past 30 days, bowling, visiting cheese shops and trying everything he could to stir up the conservative base and overcome Romney’s huge advantage in fundraising and advertising. But he once again failed to beat Romney in a large, industrial Midwestern state, just as he lost to Romney earlier in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio.
Santorum has now turned his attention to his home state of Pennsylvania and four other Northeastern states with primaries in three weeks. The former senator has repeatedly shown strength in southern states and the southwest, and he is likely to do well in May in a series of contests in Texas, Kentucky, Arkansas, North Carolina and Indiana – if he makes it that far.
But if he loses in Pennsylvania, a distinct possibility given his gradual slide in the polls and widespread opposition to his staunch anti abortion, anti-contraception, anti-government views in the heavily populated suburbs of Philadelphia, Santorum would come under intense pressure from leaders of the GOP establishment to drop out of the campaign.
Romney has picked up a deluge of important endorsements in recent days from the GOP party establishments, including former President George H.W. Bush, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. And with Romney now holding 625 delegates – well more than half the 1,144 delegates needed to claim the nomination in Tampa this August – it would be almost impossible for Santorum with 263 delegates to catch up.
In a defiant speech heavily laced with historical references to the Liberty Bell, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, Santorum lashed out at his party’s establishment and “aristocrats” trying to get him to abandon his campaign and declared that he would fight all the way to the convention.
"Pennsylvania and half the other people in this country have yet to be heard, and we're going to go out and campaign across this country to make sure those voices are heard," he said.