By Laurie Kellman Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney said Wednesday he’s “prepared to fight all the way” to become the Republican presidential nominee after padding his delegate count on Super Tuesday. Supporters of his chief rival, Rick Santorum, tried to elbow Newt Gingrich out of the race in an effort to give conservatives a clear alternative to the GOP front-runner.
But Gingrich, who won only his home state of Georgia in Tuesday’s balloting across 10 states, said Wednesday he’s pressing ahead and will “wait and see how the race goes.”
Super Tuesday gave Romney a narrow victory in pivotal Ohio and wins in five other states, while Santorum laid claim to three states. Rep. Ron Paul won none. The split decision refreshed questions about Romney’s appeal to conservatives, and guaranteed more convulsion ahead as Republicans struggle to settle on a candidate to take on President Barack Obama.
Leaders of a super political action committee supporting Santorum said it’s time for Gingrich to step aside and let Santorum go head-to-head with Romney.
“It was a 10-state Super Tuesday — literally coast to coast — and all Gingrich managed to do was win his home state,” said Stuart Roy, an adviser to the Red, White and Blue Fund. “If he remains in the race, it’s only a hindrance to a conservative alternative to Romney. And Romney simply won’t be the conservative alternative to Obama.”
The PAC has spent about $3 million on TV ads helping Santorum’s White House bid, and Roy predicted that Wednesday would be “a good day for fundraising.”
Santorum himself pointed to his wins in the West, the Midwest and the South as proof he can win across this country.
In an appearance on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Romney insisted he’s “getting the kind of support across the party that I need to become the nominee.”
“We’ve got the time and the resources and a plan to get all the delegates, and we think that will get done before the convention,” Romney said.
Gingrich, in a morning appearance on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio program, said there’s no evidence Santorum could defeat Romney even in a one-on-one competition, and that he would have gotten out of the race if he’d lost Georgia.
“If I thought he was a slam dunk to beat Romney and to beat Obama, I would really consider getting out,” Gingrich said. “I don’t.”
House Republican Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia argued that Romney’s claim to the nomination is inevitable, adding that Santorum and Gingrich “have not demonstrated an ability to do what needs to be done.” But in a morning interview on CBS “This Morning,” Cantor acknowledged there is still plenty of ongoing debate in “a robust party with many ideas.”
Obama chose the busiest day of the GOP race to speak from the presidential bully pulpit, where he dismissed the Republicans’ almost constant criticism of his administration.
“Those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities,” Obama said in a White House news conference. “They’re not commander in chief.”
In addition to claiming Ohio, Romney scored a home-state win in Massachusetts, and triumphs in Idaho, Vermont, Alaska, and Virginia. Santorum laid claim to Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Dakota.
Gingrich’s win in Georgia, which he represented for several terms in Congress, was his first victory since he captured the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21.
Paul, the veteran congressman from Texas, had pinned his hopes on winning Idaho and Alaska but fell short in both.
Ohio was the marquee matchup, and for good reason. No Republican has won the presidency without carrying the state in the general election. It was a second industrial-state showdown in as many weeks between Romney and Santorum and drew the most campaigning and television advertisements of the 10 Super Tuesday states.
With 99 percent of Ohio precincts reporting, Romney had 38 percent to Santorum’s 37 percent, an uncomfortably close margin for a candidate who had spent nearly four times as much money as his rival in the state.
Romney spent $1.5 million in television advertisements and Restore Our Future, a super PAC that supports him, spent an additional $2.3 million. Santorum and the Red, White and Blue Fund that supports him, countered with about $1 million combined, according to information on file with the Federal Election Commission.
In all, 419 delegates were at stake across the 10 states. Romney picked up at least 212 delegates during the night; Santorum got 84, Gingrich 72 and Paul at least 22.
That gave the former Massachusetts governor 415, more than his three rivals combined. Santorum was second with 176 delegates, Gingrich had 105 and Paul had 47. It takes 1,144 delegates to win the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., this summer.
The race now moves to contests in Kansas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Alabama, Hawaii, Mississippi and Missouri. Voting in Puerto Rico, Illinois and Louisiana rounds out the nomination schedule for March.