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Romney hunts SC votes as GOP rivals toss pejoratives his way to slow his momentum
MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) ' Mobilizing against Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney as too timid and too moderate, the rest of the GOP field is exhorting Republicans to do themselves a favor and nominate a more conservative standard-bearer who has a better chance of holding up against President Barack Obama.
"The only way Republicans lose is if we screw this up and nominate another moderate who has taken multiple positions on every major issue of our time," former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told supporters in a fundraising appeal Friday.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was up early to continue the anti-Romney drumbeat, predicting on morning TV news shows that Romney can't win the nomination and saying that even if he did, his performance against Obama in the general election campaign debates would get little more than a laugh from the president.
Gingrich, speaking on ABC's "Good Morning America," said Romney would win New Hampshire but that one of the former Massachusetts governor's GOP rivals "will eventually emerge as the conservative alternative and will beat Romney."
Romney had harsh words of his own, but for Obama, whom he called a "crony capitalist" and "a job killer." The latest jobs report from the government didn't reinforce that message. The Labor Department reported Friday that employers added a net 200,000 jobs last month and that the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent, the fourth straight monthly drop.
Romney was heavily favored to win Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, so much so that he was campaigning for a second day in South Carolina, where voters weren't due to cast primary ballots for two weeks. He was appearing Friday with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, two local favorites who have urged conservatives to support Romney as the GOP's nominee.
Santorum, who pulled within a handful of votes to place just behind Romney in Iowa's caucuses, was likely to find a welcome audience among South Carolina conservatives and so remained in New Hampshire to try to maintain the momentum he earned from Iowa. Jon Huntsman, who bypassed Iowa to bet his campaign on a good finish in New Hampshire, was showing off an endorsement by The Boston Globe, Romney's hometown paper.
"Don't settle for less than America needs," Santorum asked those expected to vote in New Hampshire's first-in-the nation primary. Without saying so Thursday, he and the other candidates appeared to share a common objective ' hold down Romney's vote totals in New Hampshire, then knock him off stride in the first Southern primary of the year.
Romney benefited handsomely from having several rivals split the vote in Iowa, where his winner's share was roughly 25 percent.
On Friday, he picked up the endorsement of conservative leader Bay Buchanan, whose brother Pat won the New Hampshire primary in 1996. Bay Buchanan cast Romney as a "real conservative" who could get things done.
Romney's allies were fully engaged in the tussle over which GOP candidate is the true conservative.
Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC that unloaded a barrage of negative TV ads on Gingrich in Iowa, planned to go after him again ' this time in print. The group announced Friday it had purchased full-page newspaper ads in New Hampshire and South Carolina tying the former House speaker to Obama.
' ?????"On issue after issue, New Gingrich and Barack Obama have so much in common, the right choice is to choose neither," the ad said, ticking through issues including backing the federal bank bailout and favoring "amnesty" for illegal immigrants.
Huntsman made hay out of winning the Globe's endorsement. It was the second time Massachusetts' largest newspaper had snubbed Romney ahead of the New Hampshire primary.
'We can't afford to have a status quo president," Huntsman said in Durham, N.H. "We can't afford to have a coronation for president."
Gingrich unveiled a new television commercial aimed at voters in New Hampshire and South Carolina that cited one review of Romney's jobs program as timid and nearly identical in part to the president's.
"Timid won't create jobs. And timid certainly won't defeat Barack Obama," the ad said.
Ironically, in a year in which polls show the economy is overwhelmingly the top issue for voters, the first two contests are in states with low joblessness ??? 5.7 percent in Iowa and 5.4 percent in New Hampshire.
That all changes a week later.
South Carolina's unemployment was 9.9 percent in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, worse than 41 other states and more than a full percentage point higher than the national average.
Santorum managed to criticize Romney and most of the other Republicans in the race in the space of a few sentences.
"I've never been for government-run health care," he said in a swipe at both Romney and Gingrich. "I'm not for no regulation, I'm not a libertarian," he added, a jab at Paul.
Yet he also fielded pointed questions from his audiences ??? something that he said happened regularly in Iowa, when he campaigned with little or no media coverage for months.
In Tilton he was pressed for his views on gun control, given his endorsement in an earlier campaign for former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, who favored restrictions. Santorum responded that he is committed to the rights of gun owners.
Later, in an appearance before college students in Concord, he was asked about his opposition to same-sex marriage, which is legal in New Hampshire. "So anyone can marry anyone else?" Santorum said, swiftly turning the conversation to polygamy. "So anyone can marry several people?"
The crowd objected and tried to talk over him.
"Stop. This is not participatory. We're not going to do this. I'm going to ask the question," Santorum said, growing testy.
Santorum's aides say he had raised $2 million on the strength of his Iowa showing. The campaign sought to show momentum by announcing the support of a New Hampshire tea party leader and Catholicvote.org, an online organization, as well as another state senator and the chair of the conservative think tank Cornerstone.
Gingrich sought to set a high bar for Romney. "It's probably one of his three best states, but we'll see whether he gets a majority here," he said.
In the ebb and flow of the campaign, one-time national front-runner Gingrich was hoping to reverse a slide that landed him in fourth place in Iowa.
Also vying to emerge as Romney's chief rival were Texans Ron Paul and Rick Perry.
Paul was absent, after a third-place finish in Iowa. He is scheduled to arrive in New Hampshire on Friday, in time to campaign and participate in a pair of weekend debates.
Perry, who finished fifth in Iowa, is bypassing New Hampshire to try and resurrect his chances in South Carolina. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann dropped out after a last-place showing in Iowa.
Associated Press writers Brian Bakst in St. Paul, Minn.; Philip Elliott, Shannon McCaffrey and Holly Ramer in New Hampshire; Jim Davenport in Columbia, S.C.; Beth Fouhy in New York; and David Espo in Washington contributed to this report.