Romney takes aim at Obama Cabinet members

Los Angeles Times

Mitt Romney wants to fire some people to save the economy.

The “gas-hike trio” at the top of President Obama’s Cabinet, to be precise: Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, whom Romney alleged Saturday night at an Illinois town hall have conspired to drive up the cost of gas to make solar and wind energy more competitive.

"Of course we want a clean environment, of course we want to preserve species, but we can't have these regulators, who, in the name of regulation, in the name of protecting and securing, are really trying to kill enterprise," Romney said. "No question in my mind that these -- I call them the gas-hike trio -- that those three are on a mission to drive up the price of gasoline and all energy so that they can finally get their solar and their wind to be more price-competitive. That's what they want to do."

That contradicts a statement Chu made three days ago, in which he swore off an assertion he'd made in 2008 -- one Romney attacked -- that he wanted the price of gas to rise to that of Europe's. Chu told a Senate committee on Tuesday, "Of course we don't want the price of gasoline to go up. We want it to go down."

No matter.

“I think it’s time for [Obama] to fire his gas-hike trio,” Romney said, adding moments later, “In fact, the gas-hike trio really ought to resign.”

It’s the latest grenade Romney has lobbed into a tough primary campaign that sees its next big showdown in Illinois on Tuesday. Polls show Romney, the national front-runner, leading Rick Santorum.

Romney’s first speech stateside after a two-day campaign trip to Puerto Rico emphasized an energy policy reliant on fossil fuels, with Romney reiterating his support for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and fewer environmental regulations.

“We want regulation that’s updated, and modern, and streamlined,” Romney told the Collinsville, Ill., crowd.

The speech was notably devoid of many of the social-conservative issues that have dominated debate on the right in recent weeks; Romney focused on his economic bona fides.

“I’ve lived in the real economy, the economy is my wheelhouse,” said Romney, who added the sort of reference to his personal wealth that has occasionally backfired during the campaign: “I’m not in this race to make money. I’ve already made enough.”

Noticeably absent from Romney’s speech was any mention of the 1,144 delegates he needs to claim the nomination. That was left to Romney’s surrogate, Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who before introducing Romney, asserted flatly to the crowd: "This is all about delegates."

As the candidates settle in for a long slog of a fight, so much of the race has come down to simple arithmetic.

At a brief stop in Missouri (52 delegates) on Saturday, Rick Santorum said his campaign would release “new delegate math” soon that would show that his campaign is in better shape than everyone thinks to deny Romney a majority before the Republican National Convention.

Yet the toughest numbers for any Republican contender may not be delegate counts. According to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released Wednesday,  Romney and Santorum have half the favorability of Obama, whose 56% favorability matched his standing during a bruising 2008 primary race against Hillary Rodham Clinton.

At this point in that race, Clinton (50%) and John McCain (45%) had far higher favorability ratings than Romney (29%) and Santorum (27%) have now.

During a question-and-answer session Saturday, Romney was asked how he’d bring together a divided Republican party if he won the nomination. “I will support whoever our nominee is,” Romney said, citing John McCain in 2008 as an example of a candidate who lost 19 states and still managed to bring Republicans together.

A possible problem with that example: McCain lost the general election.

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