2012 ELECTION

Romney raps Obama in SC; GOP rivals pile on in NH

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Romney's GOP rivals are working overtime to cast him as too timid and too moderate: They're urging Republicans to do themselves a favor and nominate a more conservative standard-bearer offering a sharper contrast to 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," Santorum told supporters in a fundraising appeal Friday.

Gingrich argued on morning TV news shows that Romney can't win the nomination and said that even if he did, his performance against Obama in the general election campaign debates would simply draw a laugh from the president.

The former House speaker, speaking on ABC's "Good Morning America," predicted that 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 is heavily favored to win Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, so much so that he can afford to focus on South Carolina, where voters aren't due to cast primary ballots for another two weeks. While the new poll put Romney out front in South Carolina, 49 percent of respondents said they still might change their minds.

The survey had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points. McCain told voters there that Romney could effectively clinch the GOP nomination with a South Carolina win on Jan. 21. "It's going to come down, as it always does, to South Carolina," he said.

The Arizona senator hammered at Gingrich and Santorum for backing government spending on legislators' special projects, known as "earmarks," when they were in Congress, telling voters, "My friends, earmarks are the gateway to corruption."

Santorum, who faced tough questioning from voters throughout the day about his policies, countered that it "just absurd" to characterize him as an irresponsible spender just because he supported earmarks.

"This is John McCain trying to put his imprimatur on the Republican, conservative movement," Santorum said, adding that McCain had failed to lead on overhauling Social Security, Medicare and other government programs.

Romney kept his focus on Obama, telling his audience in Conway that the president's proposal to reduce the military and focus more on Asia was "inexcusable, unthinkable and it must be reversed."

His allies were fully engaged in the tussle over which GOP candidate is the true conservative. Romney showcased 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.

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