As he set out on a snowy bus tour through Ohio on the eve of the Super Tuesday contests, Mitt Romney hammered his closing argument that he is the only candidate who had spent his life in the “real economy,” painting his GOP rivals as creatures of Washington who are not equipped to address the nation’s economic slump.
After touring a steel manufacturer that makes guardrails, Romney reminded voters of his background in venture capital where he was involved in snapping up companies and making them more profitable for investors. He said his philosophy was that there were three rules for turning around a struggling enterprise: “focus, focus and focus.”
“I know why jobs come and go,” the former Massachusetts governor said at Gregory Industries, where the stage for his event was surrounded by huge rolls of coiled steel struts. “Other people in this race have debated about the economy, they’ve read about the economy, they’ve talked about it in subcommittee meetings, but I’ve actually been in it. I’ve worked in business. I understand what it takes to get a business successful and to thrive. I understand how it is that government gets in the way.”
Alluding to recent diversions in the GOP race on topics like birth control, Romney said he would keep a narrow focus on jobs, debt and the economy.
“During this campaign there has been discussion about all sorts of issues,” he said. “I keep bringing it back to more jobs, less debt and smaller government. That’s what my campaign is about. That’s why I believe I’m doing well at this stage. ... And endorsements from key Republicans across the country in part because of that very simple message and our focus on what’s most important.”
Eric Fehrnstrom, one of Romney’s top strategists, said Romney was feeling “under the weather.” But he was still keeping a brisk pace here in Ohio, where he is in a dead heat with Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator.
“He’s battling right to the last hour to win Ohio,” Fehrnstrom said."He’s going to be plugging away until the last vote is counted.”
While others, including supporter Sen. John McCain, have suggested other candidates should withdraw Tuesday if Romney does well, Fehrnstrom said the campaign was focused on accumulating as many delegates on Tuesday as possible.
To that end, the Romney campaign has argued that there are signs that the Republican Party is finally coalescing behind Romney with new endorsements from former Attorney General John Ashcroft of Missouri, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Still, Romney aides say they expect the battle to continue well beyond Super Tuesday. The primary process, Fehrnstrom said, has made Romney a better candidate: “It’s toughened him up.”
Newt Gingrich, one of Romney’s three rivals, is expected to win his home state of Georgia on Tuesday, when 419 delegates will be at stake in 10 states. The former House speaker said Monday that he expects to be competitive in Oklahoma, Tennessee and Idaho, but was looking beyond Super Tuesday to upcoming contests in Mississippi, Alabama and Kansas—predicting that he would win two out of three of those states.
Romney “can’t close the deal,” Gingrich said during CNN’s “Starting Point” with Soledad O’Brien on Monday. “People inherently don’t trust what he’s saying and think that he isn’t always very candid with them.”
“It’s not at all clear to me right now that Romney can get above a certain ceiling,” Gingrich said. “And the question is whether or not ultimately his money starts to run out. It’s very clear in any kind of relatively evenly financed campaign Romney would not win.”
But Fehrnstrom said this weekend that resources are not a problem for the Romney campaign. Though Romney has been busy on the campaign trail, he fit in a fundraiser last week in the suburbs of Seattle that brought in seven figures, campaign aides said. And the day after Super Tuesday, Romney will hold a fundraiser in Boston.
For now, the campaign is focused on a very short term goal: “On Super Tuesday, Mitt Romney will win a majority of the delegates that are up for grabs,” Fehrnstrom said. “I can’t predict how many states he’ll win, but he will win a majority of delegates”