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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Audie Cornish. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum made a clean sweep last night - Colorado, Missouri, Minnesota. While not very meaningful in the race to accumulate delegates, the triple loss for Mitt Romney once again raises serious question about his ability to inspire passion among the GOP's base and about his viability in a general election. NPR's Mara Liasson has our story.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Santorum's victory was a setback, if not exactly a body blow to Romney, who Santorum routinely dismisses as a candidate with a big machine but no core. Here's Santorum yesterday.
RICK SANTORUM: Governor Romney's been able to bully his way through this primary, outspending opponents on average about 5 to 1, and been able to win by outspending. But he's not inspiring. He's not painting a vision.
LIASSON: The Romney campaign is playing down last night's defeats, still confident in its ability to win the long slog for delegates. Romney adviser Vin Weber says there are no plans for big changes.
VIN WEBER: It would be a mistake to think that Romney has to fundamentally retool or redirect his campaign. I think that his overriding message, which is that he's the guy with the business experience that can get the economy back on track, is going to remain the message that is dominant throughout the campaign.
LIASSON: And, true to form, Romney's concession speech in Denver stuck to his themes. The economy is still a mess, it's the president's fault and I know how to fix it.
MITT ROMNEY: Now, I stand before you ready to lead this party and lead the nation. I've led businesses. I've led an Olympics. I had the chance of helping to lead a state.
LIASSON: But Kim Strassel, a conservative columnist for The Wall Street Journal, argues that Romney is relying much too heavily on his experience.
KIM STRASSEL: He's been a very successful businessman. He's got a strong family. You know, this is all stuff that is reassuring people, but you also have to go out and make the case that you have big, bold ideas.
LIASSON: Strassel is not alone. There has been a daily drumbeat from the conservative grassroots all the way to the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal, all begging Romney to put some meat on the bones of his policy agenda. Even Karl Rove says Romney's campaign is, quote, "tilted too heavily toward biography, not nearly enough toward ideas." Rove knows running on a resume can be risky. In 2004, he helped Republican George W. Bush teach John Kerry that lesson.
Matthew Dowd was also a top strategist on the 2004 campaign.
MATTHEW DOWD: John Kerry and the Vietnam record, that was going to be his major asset in a national security election. It's like, I'm a war hero, this is who I am. That asset became under attack and became washed away as an asset in the election. Mitt Romney's experience at Baine and his private sector experience was supposed to be the major asset he was walking in an economic election. If that is deluded, that is a huge problem.
LIASSON: As Romney's tenure as a private equity investor is dissected and attacked, some conservatives are concerned Romney might end up like John Kerry without the medals. Others, like Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, a Tea Party resource center in Washington, worry whether Romney can help energize grassroots conservatives for other Republican candidates.
MATT KIBBE: Traditionally, it's quite important to have the top of the ticket pulling the rest of the slate along with them.
LIASSON: And that concerns Kibbe.
That's why, if he should be the nominee, he's going to have to offer up some bold ideas that he hasn't done yet.
Romney appears to have heard the party's hunger for a campaign about something more than beating Barack Obama, and he's trying to frame the choice in epic terms.
ROMNEY: I've said over and over that this campaign is more about changing the soul of America or protecting the soul of America, saving the soul of America, than it is about changing a president.
LIASSON: The discipline Mr. Romney has said that over and over, but Strassel says he hasn't backed up that call to arms with substance. That's becoming a more urgent matter, not just because the economy is improving, threatening to undercut Romney's main rationale, but also because, as yesterday's results show, Romney still has trouble with the conservative base, even as he declares the soul of America at stake.
STRASSEL: That is certainly what a lot of conservative and independent voters want to hear because it reflects their concerns and their moods. He's got that. What he has not done yet is actually put out what his idea is for fixing it.
LIASSON: What he has laid out, Strassel says, hasn't been communicated.
STRASSEL: He has a 59-point plan, and if you asked most Americans what was in that 59-point plan, they would not be able to tell you even one.
LIASSON: Vin Weber of the Romney campaign has a message for the conservative peanut gallery waiting impatiently for his candidate to lay out a big reform vision - stay tuned.
WEBER: I'd say to my fellow conservatives that it's still pretty early in this process. This is all going to come. I mean, the campaign is working now on the next phase of a tax reform proposal, but it's not going to all happen at once.
LIASSON: Romney now has two goals. He has to nail down the nomination and, at the same time, present the country with his own vision. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.
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