Elections 2012: Mitt Romney Gains Strength Before ‘Super Tuesday’

Mitt Romney closed in on Rick Santorum in Ohio and picked up a crucial endorsement in Virginia on Sunday as he grows in strength ahead of “Super Tuesday,” the biggest day yet in the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

Two leading fiscal conservatives declared their loyalties for the first time on Sunday, with one, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader, saying, “Mitt Romney is the man for this year.” The other, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, described Mr. Romney as “best equipped to solve the urgent problems before us.” Photo: PBS NewsHour/Flickr

Two leading fiscal conservatives declared their loyalties for the first time on Sunday, with one, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader, saying, “Mitt Romney is the man for this year.”

“He is the guy I believe that will be our nominee and we will have a clear choice as a country as far as the vision forward in growing this economy with Mitt’s plan versus that of the president’s record,” Cantor said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The other, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, described Mr. Romney as “best equipped to solve the urgent problems before us,” reports The New York Times.

Senior Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom was cautious about Romney’s prospects in Ohio, saying the campaign was more concerned about getting enough delegates to eventually seal the nomination.

“I don’t think any state is a must-win. I think the only must-do on a candidate’s checklist is getting 1,144 delegates,” he told reporters on Romney’s plane.

The endorsements come as the Romney campaign is pressing elected officials and activists in the 10 states that are voting Tuesday and those that do so in the following weeks to help nudge the contest toward a conclusion.

The contests on Super Tuesday, which is the biggest day of voting so far in the primary season, will award more than 400 delegates and indicate to establishment Republicans whether the race is nearing a finale or will be mired in acrimony for months.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll found Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, is tied with Santorum at 32 percent support from likely voters in the Ohio Republican primary, the most important of the 10 state nominating contests on Tuesday.

According to Reuters, Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator who is a social conservative with a strong blue-collar message, had been leading in polls in the economically hard-hit Midwestern state by double digits in recent weeks.

Santorum needs an Ohio win to prove he remains a threat to Romney after losing Michigan and Arizona to him last week.

Newt Gingrich is also fighting to stay in the race, staking the future of his candidacy on a victory in Georgia on Tuesday.

Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Santorum suggested the presence of another conservative in the race, Gingrich, was holding him back because it is splitting the conservative vote.

Asked about Ohio, Santorum said he would do “very, very well” but did not predict victory.

“It’s a tough state for us only because of … the money disadvantage. But we’ve got a great grassroots campaign. We’re hanging in there,” Santorum said.

“It’s always harder when you’ve got two conservative candidates out there running in the race. … We have the anti-Romney vote, if you will. Both Gingrich and I are out there slugging away. We just need to show that we are the best candidate to go head to head,” he said.

NBC News/Marist poll released on Sunday showed Mr. Santorum with a two-point edge over Mr. Romney that was within the survey’s margin of sampling error.

Mr. Santorum, who is relying on grass-roots activists in the state, dismissed the endorsements collected by his rival.

The Republican candidates fanned out across several Southern states on Sunday. As Mr. Romney visited Georgia, he told voters about his new endorsements. His words were laced with implicit criticisms of his rivals.

“The economy is what I do, it’s what I know, it’s what I’ve done,” Mr. Romney told a crowd at a pancake breakfast in Snellville, Ga. “I haven’t just read about it, I haven’t just debated about it, I haven’t just talked about it on subcommittees. I’ve actually done it.”

Gingrich is placing his hopes on a victory in his home state of Georgia to get him back in the 2012 race. He leads there by double digits.

Gingrich had a brief period as the front-runner but was staggered by a loss to Romney in Florida on January 31 and has been searching for a comeback since then.

“I thought it was vital to the campaign, and we focused on it and as a result despite a lot of money spent against me, we’re doing very well and I think we’re going to win decisively,” Gingrich told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The fourth candidate still in the race, Representative Ron Paul of Texas, made a weekend trip to Alaska, which is holding its caucuses Tuesday.

In a television interview, Mr. Paul conceded that he was unlikely to win the nomination, saying: “Do I believe the chances are slim? Yes, I do.”

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