Rom­ney swipes en­ergy is­sue from Gin­grich’s grasp

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY RALPH Z. HAL­LOW

the na­tion’s eco­nomic and em­ploy­ment woes.

“I look at this cam­paign right now, and I see a lot of folks talk­ing about lots of things, but what we need to talk about to de­feat Barack Obama is get­ting good jobs and scal­ing back the size of gov­ern­ment — and that’s what I do,” Mr. Rom­ney said in an ap­par­ent swipe at Mr. San­to­rum, a for­mer se­na­tor from Penn­syl­va­nia who has of­ten touted his so­cially con­ser­va­tive views on abor­tion, gay mar­riage and re­li­gion on the cam­paign trail.

“I keep bring­ing it back to more jobs, less debt and smaller gov­ern­ment. That is what my cam­paign is about — and that is why I think we are do­ing well in this state,” Mr. Rom­ney said.

Mr. San­to­rum, though, showed no signs of back­ing off on so­cial is­sues, ar­gu­ing at cam­paign stops that the na­tion can­not af­ford to ig­nore prob­lems cre­ated by the break­down of Amer­i­can fam­i­lies. In a con­fer­ence call with re­porters and on the cam­paign stump, Mr. San­to­rum made the case that Mr. Rom­ney was for a fed­eral health care man­date be­fore he was against it — mak­ing him an un­re­li­able con­ser­va­tive.

“What you have with Gov. Rom­ney is some­one who is sim­ply not the gen­uine ar­ti­cle. He’s not some­one you can trust on the is­sue of big gov­ern­ment,” Mr. San­to­rum said in the con­fer­ence call.

Mr. San­to­rum spent months ar­gu­ing that Mr. Rom­ney’s sup­port of a univer­sal health care law in Mas­sachusetts would hurt the party’s chances of cap­tur­ing the White House in a gen­eral elec­tion and its ef­fort to repeal the fed­eral health care act that Pres­i­dent Obama pushed through Congress and signed into law in 2010.

But he sharp­ened that line of at­tack in the run-up to Su­per Tues­day, the big­gest day of the race, with pri­maries in Ohio, Ge­or­gia, Mas­sachusetts, Ver­mont, Virginia, Ok­la­homa and Ten­nessee plus cau­cuses in Idaho, North Dakota and Alaska.

Mr. San­to­rum fo­cused on Mr. Rom­ney’s com­ments from a 2009 ap­pear­ance on NBC’S “Meet the Press,” when he expressed sup­port for the Healthy Amer­i­cans Act, also known as the Wy­den-ben­nett Act, which failed to pass Congress, but in­cluded the same sort of in­di­vid­ual man­date that Mr. Rom­ney now as­sails on the cam­paign trail.

“He ad­vo­cated for a gov­ern­ment-man­dated health in­sur­ance ben­e­fit, some­thing he has been deny­ing through­out the course of the cam­paign, and now we have it all on tape,” Mr. San­to­rum told the crowd here. “It is bad enough to be for a gov­ern­ment-man­dated health care sys­tem, which he clearly was in Mas­sachusetts, and then say, ‘I never rec­om­mended it to the pres­i­dent.’ But now we have two or three in­stances where he clearly did. It is one thing to be for it; it is an­other thing to not tell the truth.”

The Rom­ney camp coun­tered im­me­di­ately by say­ing that Mr. San­to­rum was “flail­ing around” in des­per­a­tion af­ter watch­ing Mr. Rom­ney string to­gether four con­sec­u­tive vic­to­ries in re­cent con­tests.

“Gov. Rom­ney has been con­sis­tent in op­pos­ing a fed­eral man­date,” Ryan Wil­liams, a cam­paign spokesman, told re­porters. “He sup­ports a state-by-state ap­proach.”

For­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich, who hasn’t had a vic­tory since South Carolina in Jan­uary, has ba­si­cally staked his en­tire pres­i­den­tial cam­paign on win­ning the pri­mary in Ge­or­gia, the state he rep­re­sented in Congress for 20 years and where he sits atop a dou­ble-digit lead in the polls.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is try­ing to earn his first vic­tory of the con­test by fo­cus­ing on the cau­cuses in Alaska, Idaho and North Dakota, where the lib­er­tar­ian icon’s loyal band of sup­port­ers could push him over the top.

Mr. San­to­rum is hop­ing for strong show­ings in Ok­la­homa and Ten­nessee, where he leads in the polls.

Mr. Rom­ney, mean­while, hopes to con­tinue the mo­men­tum from his wins in Ari­zona, Michi­gan, Washington state and Wy­oming with ad­di­tional vic­to­ries in Mas­sachusetts, Ver­mont and Virginia. In Virginia, Mr. Gin­grich and Mr. San­to­rum failed to meet the re­quire­ments nec­es­sary to get on the bal­lot.

Most of the po­lit­i­cal world, though, will be fo­cused in on the sharp-el­bowed race in Ohio, where Mr. Rom­ney and Mr. San­to­rum have re­sumed the Rust Belt bat­tle they started in Michi­gan, a con­test that turned out to be so close that the two Repub­li­cans split the state’s 30 del­e­gates down the mid­dle.

The lat­est polls show Mr. Rom­ney with a slight edge in Ohio, knock­ing Mr. San­to­rum out of the top spot that he had held more or less since he swept the cau­cuses in Min­nesota and Colorado and the non­bind­ing pri­mary in Mis­souri last month.

Since then, the Rom­ney cam­paign and Re­store Our Fu­ture, the in­de­pen­dent su­per PAC run by for­mer Rom­ney staffers, have filled the air­waves here and else­where with ad­ver­tise­ments, in­clud­ing neg­a­tive ads that paint Mr. San­to­rum as a Washington in­sider.

In the con­fer­ence call with re­porters, Mr. San­to­rum couched the race in bib­li­cal terms, say­ing that af­ter be­ing out­spent 12-to-1 in the race that it is “prob­a­bly a lit­tle bit of an un­der­state­ment” to see the po­lit­i­cal bat­tle as “David ver­sus Go­liath.”

“We’re out here fight­ing for prin­ci­ples and the peo­ple of Ohio, in spite of the bar­rage of neg­a­tiv­ity from the [Rom­ney] su­per PAC,” Mr. San­to­rum said.

Mitt Rom­ney, show­ing signs of walk­ing away from his nom­i­na­tion ri­vals in na­tional polls, may be walk­ing off with ri­val Newt Gin­grich’s sig­na­ture is­sue: en­ergy.

With ris­ing gas prices in­creas­ingly an is­sue on the cam­paign trail, Mr. Gin­grich has been the most vo­cal and fo­cused GOP can­di­date in crit­i­ciz­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s poli­cies and re­lent­lessly bring­ing all re­cent in­ter­views back to his prom­ise to bring down gaso­line prices to $2.50 a gal­lon from their cur­rent av­er­age of nearly $4 at the pump.

But it was Mr. Rom­ney who of­fered an op-ed piece Mon­day in Ohio’s Colum­bus Dis­patch un­der the head­line, “Amer­ica can be the world’s next en­ergy su­per­power,” as polls showed the for­mer Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor gain­ing in a tight race with for­mer Sen. Rick San­to­rum in Ohio’s GOP pri­mary, a key prize in the Su­per Tues­day sweep­stakes.

“The goal of my en­ergy pol­icy is straight­for­ward: guar­an­tee Amer­ica the most af­ford­able and re­li­able sup­ply in the world,” Mr. Rom­ney de­clares in the op-ed col­umn. “Ohio is see­ing first­hand the po­ten­tial of this ap­proach in the Mar­cel­lus Shale. The nat­u­ral-gas rev­o­lu­tion is cre­at­ing di­rect jobs in con­struc­tion and drilling, and pro­duc­ing a resur­gence in Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ing. In the next cou­ple of years, bil­lions of dol­lars will be in­vested in the state in pur­suit of these op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

That’s a “jobs, jobs, jobs” of­fer from Mr. Rom­ney that he thinks Ohioans will find hard to turn down.

Mr. Gin­grich, run­ning far be­hind in Ohio and hop­ing to make a Su­per Tues­day stand in his long­time home state of Ge­or­gia, is bank­ing on a be­lief that the price of gaso­line is high on the av­er­age GOP pri­mary voter’s list of con­cerns — de­spite polls that show the econ­omy is tops in gen­eral elec­tion con­cerns among all vot­ers, fol­lowed by un­em­ploy­ment, the fed­eral bud­get deficit and the 2010 health care law.

Mr. Gin­grich dis­misses ar­gu­ments that a U.S. pres­i­dent hasn’t the tools or power to af­fect prices at the pump.

“The pres­i­dent of the United States has enor­mous ca­pac­ity to en­able the in­creased pro­duc­tion of Amer­i­can oil and Amer­i­can gas,” he said. “By dereg­u­la­tion, by open­ing up the Gulf, by open­ing up fields in Alaska, by open­ing up fed­eral lands,” he told an NPR in­ter­viewer re­cently.

He rarely misses an op­por­tu­nity to knock Pres­i­dent Obama’s en­ergy pol­icy, and es­pe­cially the decision to block the con­struc­tion of the Key­stone XL pipe­line.

On the eve of Su­per Tues­day’s 10 state pri­maries and cau­cuses, Mr. Rom­ney chose Ohio, a must-win state this fall, to make his Gin­grich-like pitch.

While Mr. Gin­grich is cam­paign­ing in other Su­per Tues­day states, hav­ing largely ceded Ohio, Mr. Rom­ney is bor­row­ing the Gin­grich en­ergy mes­sage — with­out the spe­cific prom­ise of any par­tic­u­lar gaso­line price — and pump­ing the anti-obama pipe­line he wants to run through Ohio.

“Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has a dif­fer­ent goal: higher prices, lower pro­duc­tion and a gov­ern­ment-led ‘green’ in­dus­try,” Mr. Rom­ney writes in the op-ed. “Ohio is see­ing the ef­fects of this ap­proach, as well. The av­er­age fam­ily’s en­ergy bill has jumped by thou­sands of dol­lars dur­ing his pres­i­dency. Gaso­lineprice in­creases, alone, have cost the mid­dle class as much as would dou­bling the in­come-tax rate.”

But Mr. Rom­ney, like Mr. Obama, of­fers a so­lu­tion funded, at least in part, by the tax­payer: “I will in­vest in new en­ergy tech­nolo­gies. We must not al­low Pres­i­dent Obama’s ir­re­spon­si­ble and un­eth­i­cal fund­ing of com­pa­nies such as Solyn­dra to un­der­mine the Depart­ment of En­ergy’s crit­i­cal mis­sion of ba­sic re­search. We can po­si­tion Amer­ica to lead on en­ergy in the fu­ture with­out pick­ing win­ners or sti­fling the en­ergy sources of to­day.”

Mr. Gin­grich’s cam­paign has said it will wait un­til af­ter Su­per Tues­day to air a 30-sec­ond TV spot in Alabama and Mis­sis­sippi, which will hold pri­mary elec­tions March 13, to pro­mote his $2.50 plan.

Mr. Rom­ney is not try­ing to ap­pro­pri­ate and run with Mr. Gin­grich’s mes­sage, a Rom­ney aide told The Washington Times.

“This isn’t the first Gov. Rom­ney has talked about en­ergy,” the aide said on the con­di­tion of anonymity. “. . . We ran the oped in Ohio be­cause that’s where Gov. Rom­ney has spent most of his time in lead-up to Su­per Tues­day.”

Mitt Rom­ney takes his mes­sage Mon­day to Youngstown, Ohio. He holds a slight edge in the state over Rick San­to­rum, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est polls. Vot­ers cast bal­lots in 10 states on Tues­day.

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