“Ron Paul’s not going to be our nominee,” Romney said yesterday of the Texas congressman in an interview aboard his campaign bus in Iowa with the RealClearPolitics website.
In an interview with Bloomberg News, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich was also critical of Paul, suggesting that a win for him in Iowa could weaken the future importance of the state’s caucuses in the nominating process.
“It would be very good for the future of the Iowa caucuses for somebody other than Ron Paul to win,” Gingrich said. “Somebody who wins because a lot of college students show up in favor of drug legalization doesn’t exactly strengthen the idea that this is a good environment to fight in.”
Paul, in line with his libertarian philosophy, has said that he would support the legalization of drugs as a way to better regulate their sale and reduce profits reaped by violent cartels and gangs.
Romney, as part of his newly aggressive push in Iowa, plans to campaign extensively in the state right up to the caucuses. After traveling today to New Hampshire -- site of the nation’s first primary on Jan. 10 -- he plans to return to Iowa tomorrow and remain in the state through the voting.
His campaign said he would remain in Des Moines, the state capital, the morning after the caucuses for television interviews. In past campaigns, candidates worried about their showing in the caucuses typically have left Iowa by then to try to limit the importance placed on the results.
Campaigning last night in Ames, Iowa, Romney rode his campaign bus into a warehouse where an enthusiastic crowd of about 750 people were waiting.
Stepping off the bus as the song “Eye of the Tiger” blared, Romney ignored his Republican rivals and attacked President Barack Obama.
“This is not an election just to change presidents,” he said. “It’s an election to save the soul of America.”
Romney’s loss to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee in the 2008 Iowa caucuses helped to derail his previous presidential bid, and he and his strategists had spent much of this campaign trying to lower expectations for him in the state. That changed as recent polls showed him with a good chance of scoring a caucus victory.
As Romney’s Iowa crowds have grown, Michele Bachmann’s campaign is struggling amid the departure of a top supporter. Yesterday the Minnesota congresswoman pressed her allegations that the backer was bribed by the Paul campaign to endorse him, even though one of her own aides denied that charge.
The dispute centered on the Dec. 28 decision by Kent Sorenson, an state senator who was Bachmann’s Iowa campaign chairman, to abandon her effort in favor of Paul.
“He told me that he was offered money, he was offered a lot of money by the Ron Paul campaign,” Bachmann said of Sorenson in comments yesterday in Des Moines. “No one else knows about that conversation other than Kent Sorenson and myself.”
Bachmann said Sorenson told her during a Dec. 27 phone call that he was offered money to support Paul. She declined to say how much money was involved.
Sorenson didn’t respond to a phone message left at his home by Bloomberg News. Following Bachmann’s comments, Sorenson issued a statement through Paul’s campaign denying what he termed Bachmann’s “ridiculous allegations.”
“I was never offered money from the Ron Paul campaign or anyone associated with them and certainly would never accept any,” he said in the statement.
Paul’s campaign earlier had sent out a statement by Wes Enos, Bachmann’s Iowa political director, also denying the bribery charge.
“I can say unequivocally that Kent Sorenson’s decision was in no way financially motivated,” Enos said in his statement. “While I personally disagree with Kent’s decision, and plan to stay with Michele Bachmann because I truly believe in her, I cannot in good conscience watch a good man like Kent Sorenson be attacked as a ‘sell-out.’”
Bachmann said in a later interview with CNN that Enos has quit her campaign and has been replaced as political director.
Attacks on Paul
She targeted Paul for criticism on other fronts, including the Texas congressman’s calls to withdraw U.S. troops from overseas commitments and willingness to legalize drugs.
In her comments to reporters, she termed Paul’s foreign policy “dangerous” and said he is “willing to legalize drugs in the United States, including heroin and cocaine.”
Paul, speaking later on WHO-AM radio in Des Moines, played down his role in the publication of incendiary statements in newsletters produced under his name in the mid-1990s. He said he wasn’t aware of all the content at the time of publication.
“It wasn’t a reflection of my views at all,” he said. “I was not an editor. I’m like a publisher.”
A NBC News-Marist poll on the Republican race in Iowa released today showed Romney supported by 23 percent of likely caucus-goers and Paul 21 percent. Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania had 15 percent, followed by Texas Governor Rick Perry at 14 percent and Bachmann at 6 percent.
Gingrich, after weathering televised attacks from opponents within his party, lost significant support, falling to 13 percent in the telephone survey, which was conducted Dec. 27-28 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points. The last NBC-Marist survey in Iowa, in late November, had him in the lead with 28 percent.
Gingrich said yesterday that he won’t drop out of the race, even if he finishes fourth in Iowa.
“Considering that I’m 20 points ahead in some other states, it would be fairly foolish for me not to stay in the race,” he told reporters yesterday in Sioux City. “It is a long way from here to picking the nominee.”
Santorum, who had been mostly ignored by rivals throughout the campaign, is attracting criticism now that he has risen in the polls and has the potential to unite the votes of social conservatives, who are a prominent bloc in the state’s Republican Party.
“Senator Santorum, Congressmen Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann have long backed congressional earmarks and pork,” Ray Sullivan, a spokesman for Perry, said in a statement yesterday, referring to federal spending for local projects. “Expecting them to overhaul Washington is asking a fox to guard the henhouse.”
Perry said at an Iowa event yesterday that Santorum had a taste for “Pennsylvania pork” while in the Senate.
In a Fox News interview, Santorum defended his use of earmarks while in Congress.
“I’m proud of the money that I did set aside for things that were priorities in my state,” he said.
Santorum also stood by a comment he made about Paul’s age at an earlier event, saying he did it in a “joking way” as he suggested the congressman wouldn’t change his foreign policy views if he made it to the White House.
“My comment was, you know, how many 78-year-old men do you know who change their opinions?” he said of Paul, who is 76. “People are pretty set in their ways.”
The New Year’s Eve schedule for Romney in Iowa features afternoon stops in Le Mars and Sioux City after a morning event in Hampton, New Hampshire.
The schedule released by his campaign calls for him to make six stops across the state, ending in Des Moines.
His appearances yesterday included one in Mason City, Iowa, where he took questions from the audience.
“Is it hard running for the president?” asked 8-year-old Ben Navratil.
“The answer is yes and no,” Romney responded. “Ha, ha, ha. Sounds like a politician, I apologize.”
Romney, who also sought the Republican nomination in 2008, said it’s hard for him to wake up early in the morning after staying in a different hotel every night.
Still, he called running for president “the greatest opportunity” to meet new people and expand his network of friends.
“So if you get the chance to do it, make sure and do it,” he said. “Win or lose, it’s a great thing to do.”