Rivals Warn Romney Would Be a Weak GOP Nominee

Rivals Warn Romney Would Be a Weak GOP Nominee

By Beth Fouhy - January 15, 2012

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Mitt Romney's record at a private equity firm and his advocacy of a health insurance mandate while Massachusetts governor would hobble him as the GOP presidential nominee, several rivals said Sunday, hoping to slow the front-runner's momentum before the South Carolina primary.

But Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich all said Romney continued to benefit from the fractured GOP field and the failure of social conservatives to fully coalesce around a single alternative.

Gingrich acknowledged that if Romney won Saturday's contest, it would give him an "enormous advantage" going forward after back-to-back victories in New Hampshire and Iowa. Gingrich said he would "certainly have to reassess" his own candidacy unless he captured South Carolina.

The state's senior senator said a Romney victory probably would wrap up the nomination. "I think it should be over," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "I'd hope the party would rally around him," he told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Romney took a rare day off from campaigning while his opponents focused on the South Carolina coast. They also attended church services and prayer breakfasts in a state with a large population of evangelicals and other conservative Christians.

At the Cathedral of Praise in North Charleston, Gingrich was cheered by church members as he criticized activist judges who he said had made "anti-American" rulings to keep God out of schools. Santorum spoke at the same church Saturday.

At a prayer breakfast in Myrtle Beach, Perry appealed to religious conservatives to back his candidacy.

"Who will see the job of president as that of faithful servant to the American people, and the God who created us?" Perry said. "I hope each of you will peer into your heart and look for that individual with the record and the values that represent your heart."

The candidates faced a packed week of campaign events and nationally televised debates Monday and Thursday before the first-in-the-South primary. No Republican has won the party's presidential nomination without carrying South Carolina, and polls show Romney leading in the state.

Santorum, who won the endorsement of an influential group of social conservatives and evangelical leaders Saturday in Texas, said it was imperative for the field to shrink if conservatives had any chance of slowing Romney.

"We feel like once this field narrows and we get it down to a two-person race, we have an excellent opportunity to win this race," the former Pennsylvania senator told "Fox News Sunday,"

Santorum battled Romney to a virtual tie in Iowa before falling to fifth place in New Hampshire.

Added Gingrich: "I think the only way that a Massachusetts moderate can get through South Carolina is if the vote is split."

Gingrich, a former House speaker, and Perry, the Texas governor, fared poorly in both states but are continuing to compete with Santorum for the support of social and religious conservatives.

All three have the backing of well-financed independent groups known as super political action committee that can help keep their candidacies afloat.

Santorum refused to suggest anyone should drop out of the race as a way to consolidate conservative support behind an anti-Romney candidate. But he said Republicans would have a hard time beating President Barack Obama in November if Romney were the nominee. Santorum cited Romney's push for mandatory insurance coverage in Massachusetts.

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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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