GOP Rivals Campaign In Minnesota Ahead Of Caucuses

Minnesota holds non-binding GOP caucuses Tuesday. Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul all campaigned in the state Monday. Each of front-runner Mitt Romney's rivals is looking at the state as a place where they can regain their footing.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Those three men campaigned yesterday in Minnesota, in advance of today's caucuses there, so let's turn to them. Each of Romney's rivals is looking at the state as a place where they can regain their footing.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Former Speaker Newt Gingrich promises to be in the race all the way to the convention in Tampa in August. But for that pledge to carry any weight he needs to add some more victories to his lone primary win in South Carolina. Last night he drew a good crowd of more than 400 to a ballroom near the Mall of America.

NEWT GINGRICH: How many of you believe that Washington and the country are substantially in the wrong direction?

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GONYEA: What followed were proposals for a smaller government and lower taxes. There was a lengthy defense of Gingrich's plan, laid out in Florida last month to build a U.S. colony on the moon by the end of his second term as president. But mostly he went after President Obama and Mitt Romney, his tone often mocking.

GINGRICH: Governor Romney said this week something he didn't quite mean to say but he did say it, except he didn't want to say it, but then after he said it he explained that it wasn't really what he meant to say because, you know, it turns out that not only does he not like firing people but he actually loves the poor and wishes he had said how much he loved the poor, except he didn't say that.

GONYEA: Earlier in the day, Romney was also the main topic of a health care speech delivered by former Senator Rick Santorum in Rochester, not far from the Mayo Clinic.

RICK SANTORUM: The reason I got involved in the Republican primary for president was because of the issue of health care.

GONYEA: Santorum, battling a severe head cold as he spoke, carried forth for better than 40 minutes, laying out detailed comparisons between the Massachusetts health care law signed by Governor Romney and the law signed by President Obama. Santorum's conclusion - that what he calls Romneycare and Obamacare are indistinguishable from one another. And because of that, it would be a disaster to expect Romney to debate the president on this key issue in the general election.

SANTORUM: There is now a concern by me as a candidate for president that we would put someone up who is uniquely unqualified, and I would argue disqualified, from making the most important argument in this election - that we don't need government control of that one-sixth of the economy of our country, that we need to repeal Obamacare.

GONYEA: Congressman Ron Paul meanwhile held Monday events in Minneapolis and St. Cloud. His speeches were different from the others. He did not go after Mitt Romney, instead sticking to his standard message that the government is too intrusive, that U.S. foreign policy is too expansive and too quick to get into unconstitutional wars.

REPRESENTATIVE RON PAUL: There's been too many people in Washington who have not taken seriously the oath of office. So we've gotten ourselves into a mess. But what is exciting is because of the trouble we're in, whether it's oversees or whether it's domestically or economically or monetarily, the people are realizing it's not working. We're going to replace it with something, and I know exactly what we're going to replace it with, and that is freedom.

GONYEA: University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs says each of these three candidates has chosen a certain path in Minnesota.

LARRY JACOBS: You've got Santorum hitting hard with the evangelicals. You've got Newt Gingrich hitting hard with the Tea Partiers, appealing to their insurgency, and you've got Ron Paul going after the libertarian support in the state. Each of them have an opportunity but they're each stealing from each other voters that they're going to need.

GONYEA: No convention delegates will be awarded in Minnesota today, but for any of these three challengers, a victory over Mitt Romney would still be a prize worth claiming. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Minneapolis.

MONTAGNE: And of course the biggest prize of all is the election this fall. President Obama's aides are preparing for what's expected to be a hard-fought campaign. And last night his campaign announced a reversal regarding so-called superPACs.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The campaign is dropping its resistance to those outside groups that allow massive spending by a few individuals. A Supreme Court decision cleared the way for superPACs, and though the president has criticized superPACs, his campaign manager writes: Our campaign has to face the reality of the law as it stands.

MONTAGNE: The president has now given his blessing to a SuperPAC called Priorities USA Action.

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INSKEEP: Throughout this election year, you can get the latest news from this program. You can follow us on Twitter, among other places. You can find us @MorningEdition and @NPRInskeep.

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