Romney’s growing strength, aided by his narrow victory Tuesday in the Iowa caucuses, added a sense of urgency to his rivals’ efforts to find a way to slow the former Massachusetts governor’s momentum, which threatens to bring an early conclusion to the nomination battle.
The candidates will debate twice this weekend, giving Romney’s rivals ample opportunity to make the case against him. The first debate will be Saturday night, hosted by ABC News and WMUR-TV. On Sunday, the candidates will face off on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” a forum co-hosted by the New Hampshire Union Leader.
There were signs Friday that Santorum could emerge with a second-place finish in New Hampshire. But with former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry still in the race, to say nothing of Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.), Santorum is waging a battle to claim the conservative mantle while at the same time trying to make the case against Romney.
Santorum came under sharp attack Friday. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), traveling with Romney, again hammered Santorum for supporting earmarks as a senator, saying the two have had “a strong disagreement” over pork-barrel projects.
Santorum fired back, arguing that federal spending is out of control because of entitlement programs, not earmarks, which are a small fraction of the budget. Campaigning in Dublin, N.H., he defended his support for earmarks by saying he was elected “to represent the interests of Pennsylvania.”
Meanwhile, Paul launched an ad in South Carolina attacking Santorum as “a corporate lobbyist and Washington politician” who has compiled “a record of betrayal.”
Santorum also ran into heckling later in the day from protesters who appeared to be a combination of gay rights activists, Ron Paul supporters and people from the Occupy movement.
Romney started with a morning rally in South Carolina that featured McCain and Gov. Nikki Haley. He ended the day with a spaghetti-dinner rally in tiny Tilton, N.H.
With his eye on President Obama, Romney brushed aside new government statistics showing a small tick down in the unemployment rate, to 8.5 percent. He argued that the president’s policies have failed and that he should be replaced next November. Calling the president a believer in “crony capitalism,” Romney said, “He has failed to put Americans back to work. ”