With Lull In GOP Race, Candidates Fan Out And Regroup

Mitt Romney took his campaign to Newt Gingrich's turf on Wednesday with a rally in Atlanta. i i

hide captionMitt Romney took his campaign to Newt Gingrich's turf on Wednesday with a rally in Atlanta.

Erik S. Lesser /EPA /Landov
Mitt Romney took his campaign to Newt Gingrich's turf on Wednesday with a rally in Atlanta.

Mitt Romney took his campaign to Newt Gingrich's turf on Wednesday with a rally in Atlanta.

Erik S. Lesser /EPA /Landov

After a surprise sweep of Tuesday's three election contests by Rick Santorum, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney headed to Georgia on Wednesday for a fundraiser and rally in Atlanta.

As NPR's Kathy Lohr reports on Morning Edition, heading to Georgia — Newt Gingrich country — was "a bold move" for Romney. "Before a packed crowd at a local tile and flooring company, Romney talked about creating jobs and reducing government spending — and he also took aim at his GOP opponents," Lohr reports.

"Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum — they spent a lot of time in Washington," Romney told the crowd, and was rewarded with a chorus of boos.

Romney said Santorum voted to raise the debt ceiling five times. "And he said he would be different," Lohr reports.

"I will not just slow the rate of government spending, I will cut it. I will cut it, I will get rid of it and I will get rid of programs and spending and get America on track for a balanced budget," Romney said.

Despite Romney's failure to win in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri this week, Lohr found no lack of enthusiasm for him in Atlanta.

"If you look at the numbers, the low turnouts. There was weather factors involved and the Missouri case, that was a straw poll. A lot of people didn't bother to mess with that. When that comes around, I think everybody's going to see that Romney, he'll be our next president," said Billy Hill, an antique dealer who sees Romney's losses as just a blip.

Lohr reports that Romney's message of changing Washington appealed to Stewart Wright, who runs a home renovation business in Atlanta. He says the former governor is doing just fine at this point in the GOP race.

"He did really well in Florida. He did really well in Nevada. You can't win every state. You pick your battles. I think Santorum being involved, winning as well as he did, actually takes a lot of the thunder away from Newt Gingrich," Wright said.

"There's no doubt Gingrich needs to do well in his home state of Georgia next month on Super Tuesday. The former speaker didn't mention his losses or his challengers yesterday while campaigning in Ohio, but he did mention Chrysler's 'Halftime in America' Super Bowl ad, the one featuring Clint Eastwood," Lohr reports.

"I mean I like the tone of that ad. I like the idea that the world's counted us down before, we're just regrouping," Gingrich said on Wednesday.

As Lohr notes, the former speaker himself may be regrouping too. He's planning several appearances in Georgia next week, well ahead of the Super Tuesday vote.

Meanwhile, Tuesday's big winner, Rick Santorum, campaigned in Texas on Wednesday with a message for Tea Partiers and evangelicals: he, not Gingrich, is the real conservative alternative to Romney.

Wednesday night Santorum met with a Republican women's group, reports NPR's Wade Goodwyn in another Morning Edition piece.

Santorum started off by focusing on President Obama, describing him as weak on defense, Goodwyn reports. He also described a country divided in two.

"You look at the map of this country and you look at where the traditional values are still held and you'll see a sea of red," Santorum said.

He "focused mostly on social issues and while he talked about the need for more jobs, his statements tended more toward the general than the specific," Goodwyn reports.

"People say, 'Rick, you're a social conservative and you know, you need to talk more about the economy.' Strong families and building a strong family unit is good for the economy," Santorum said.

Wednesday night Santorum also began to draw distinctions with Romney on the issue of health care.

"The other major candidate in this race — Gov. Romney's — plan is exactly Obamacare. I've studied it, I've looked at it. In every major way it is exactly Obamacare. We need to have someone who's going to go out and paint that vision of what America looks like versus Barack Obama. We need to make him and his failed policies the issue in this race. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm the best candidate to do that," Santorum said.

Maine is the next state up in the GOP nomination race, with week-long caucuses that end on Saturday. But Santorum has done precious little campaigning there and Romney and Texas Congressman Ron Paul are the undisputed favorites. At least for now.

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