Romney focuses on Obama challenge

Mitt Romney

US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney focused entirely on Democratic President Barack Obama during a campaign trip ahead of the Wisconsin primary, and predicted a victory that could effectively seal the nomination for him next week.

Mr Romney told supporters: “We’re looking like we’re going to win this thing on Tuesday,” suggesting he could also claim wins in Maryland and the District of Columbia that day.

He added: “If I can get that boost also from Wisconsin I think we’ll be on a path that’ll get me the nomination well before the convention.”

At the same time, fading rival Rick Santorum sought to stoke doubts about Mr Romney’s conservative credentials on the last weekend of campaigning before the critical showdown. This is Mr Santorum’s last chance to prove his strength in the US industrial heartland, where he has said he can challenge Barack Obama, but where Romney has beaten him consistently.

Mr Romney nodded towards evangelical conservatives, acknowledging the doubts in the former Massachusetts governor that linger with these voters, and foreshadowing the balancing act he will face in the months to come.

“President Obama believes in a government-centred society,” Mr Romney told more than 1,000 Wisconsin conservatives at a Faith and Freedom Coalition meeting in the heart of heavily Republican Waukesha County – home to the state’s largest evangelical mega-churches.

“He believes government guiding our lives will do a better job in doing so than individuals.”

Mr Romney veered slightly from the strict general election message he’s offered since winning big in the Illinois primary.

“We were endowed by our creator with our rights. Not the king, not the state, but our creator,” Mr Romney told the packed hotel ballroom, who would later hear Mr Santorum.

Mr Romney promised to restore religious freedom he and other Republicans have accused Mr Obama of undermining, and “to protect the sanctity of life” – an issue that has haunted him since his conversion to opposing abortion rights as governor of Massachusetts.

Mr Romney received a healthy if not thunderous ovation from the group. However, Mr Santorum, who has counted on like-minded activists in winning across the Bible Belt, did not perform much better in appearing before the group. He described Mr Romney’s enactment of sweeping health care legislation as governor as disqualifying him from challenging President Obama.

“Don’t listen to the pundits... They’re telling you to give up on your principles in order to win,” Mr Santorum said.

“Stand up for what you know is right for America. Stand up and vote your conscience.”

With about half of the GOP nominating contests complete, Mr Romney has won 54% of the delegates at stake, putting him on track to reach the threshold 1,144 national convention delegates in June.

Mr Santorum has won 27% of the delegates at stake. The former Pennsylvania senator, who has described Mr Romney as too moderate on key issues to effectively confront Barack Obama, would need to win 74% of the remaining delegates. Republican rival Newt Gingrich would need 85%.

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