Mitt Romney, sitting in the driver's seat en route to the Republican presidential nomination, shifted his campaign message to target President Obama and woo still skeptical Republicans into his camp.
Rhode Island, along with Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware and Connecticut, is conducting its Republican primary Tuesday. Even before Rick Santorum announced he was suspending his campaign about two weeks ago, Romney was widely expected to win a state in the neighborhood of Massachusetts where he once governed.
"I'd like to win this state in November," Romney told an audience in Warrick.
A Republican hasn't won Rhode Island since Ronald Reagan in 1984. In 2008, Obama won 63 percent of the vote in Rhode Island against John McCain, with only Hawaii and Vermont delivering him a bigger landslide.
Rhode Island has 19 delegates. RealClearPolitics.com's delegate count showed Romney with 656, Santorum with 272, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich with 140 and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas with 67.
In Warrick, Romney lambasted Obama's economic and defense policies and decried the idea the GOP was waging a war on women -- issues that have advanced to the fore now that Romney's general election campaign has begun in earnest.
"The real war on women has been waged by this president's economic policy, because they have failed American women," Romney said.
Romney said 92 percent of the more than 800,000 jobs lost during Obama's presidency were held by women, the Brown University newspaper The Brown Daily Herald reported.
(PolitiFact, a non-partisan organization that rates the accuracy of political statements, classified the statistic as "mostly false" and other commentators were dubious.)
Some Rhode Islanders say they'll back Romney in the general election, but will vote for someone else in the primary.
Michael Gardiner, a congressional candidate in Rhode Island's 2nd District, said he will vote for Gingrich in the primaries because he is "a conservative, who balanced four budgets consecutively. He passed the first balanced budget in 25 years. He co-authored the Contract with America. … His credentials are unbelievable."
But noting the likely candidate in November, Gardiner told the Daily Herald he'll vote for Romney in the fall.
Paul also stumped in Rhode Island, but Gingrich has experienced financial difficulties and ratcheted back his staff and campaigning. Neither has shown any inclination of dropping out of the race before the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
Gingrich has said his presence will help to frame the national debate in ways that will help Republicans defeat Obama in November.
In an interview on Fox News, Gingrich explained he wants to "continue to frame a reference here that we are a conservative party."
Paul, working to galvanize a movement that favors a libertarian form of government, is seeking a "prominent role" at the convention and hopes to ensure voters hear his criticisms of the Federal Reserve, the deficit and the high cost of the nation's wars, Paul's campaign manager told The New York Times. Paul's campaign, lifted by committed young backers, still sends supporters to local and state political conventions to try to amass delegates for the GOP national convention.
"Taken together, these victories and those yet to happen forecast a prominent role for Ron Paul at the RNC," campaign manager John Tate said. "They also signal that the convention will feature a spirited discussion over whether conservatism will triumph over the status quo, all in relation to the endgame of defeating President Obama."
While Romney appears to be the party's standard-bearer in November, the battle for a vice presidential candidate is far from settled, as evidenced during a recent question-and-answer session, WRNI-FM, Rhode Island Public Radio reported.
"I don't have a list yet," Romney said. "So I can't say someone is on or off my list but I can tell you the people I had the privilege of running against would surely be among those I'd consider. The [criterion] has to be first and foremost is this a person who could be president of the United States if that were needed."
Now free of the constraints of a primary campaign, Romney has started rechanneling some of the millions of dollars he planned to spend in the five states Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Since Santorum's departure, the Romney campaign scrapped plans to spend nearly $3 million on television ads in Pennsylvania. However, a super PAC supporting Romney will air at least $290,000 in positive campaign spots in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and Rhode Island, a spokeswoman said.
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