Stakes high as Super Tuesday looms

It’s the single biggest day of the Republican presidential campaign — or, as Newt Gingrich’s political action committee put it on Monday, the event that could represent “life or death to America as we know and love it.”

WASHINGTON — It’s the single biggest day of the Republican presidential campaign — or, as Newt Gingrich’s political action committee put it on Monday, the event that could represent “life or death to America as we know and love it.”

Super Tuesday is looming as Republican primary voters in 10 states, including the delegate-rich crown jewels of Georgia and Ohio, prepare to head to the polls to decide which candidate they want to take on U.S. President Barack Obama in November’s presidential election.

Stakes are as high as they’ve ever been during this roller-coaster ride of a presidential race.

Front-runner Mitt Romney needs to win Ohio to clear a significant hurdle in his goal to lock up the nomination. Rick Santorum is desperate for victory in Ohio, too, if he has any hopes of salvaging his faltering campaign and regaining some momentum among primary voters.

Gingrich has already suggested if he fails to win big in Georgia, where he served as a U.S. congressman for two decades, his bid for the nomination is all but done. Ron Paul, meantime, hopes to watch at least one of his rivals drop out as he continues to quietly rack up delegates.

Never shy about the use of hyperbole in its campaign literature, Gingrich’s so-called super PAC sent out an email on Monday that opened with this ominous warning: “Super Tuesday could absolutely mean life or death to America as we know and love it.”

It urged voters to “rally today. America as we know and love it will survive. Your children and grandchildren will thank you.”

Gingrich, incidentally, recently told a televised debate that the best word to describe him was “cheerful.”

Romney, meantime, has a head of steam as he makes a play for Super Tuesday’s 419 delegates.

The former Massachusetts governor picked up two endorsements from prominent Republicans over the weekend. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and House majority leader Eric Cantor, a Tea Party darling, threw their support behind Romney.

Coburn’s Oklahoma and Cantor’s Virginia are among the 10 Super Tuesday states. The others are Ohio, Georgia, Tennessee, Vermont, Massachusetts, Idaho, North Dakota and Alaska.

“What Romney has done in his 25 years in the private sector is precisely what we need a president to do in Washington,” Coburn wrote in an op-ed in the Oklahoman newspaper.

“Romney has done hard things. He has turned businesses around, told people hard truths about what needed to be done, inspired confidence and overcome excuses. Romney is not a career politician or a career legislator. As a former governor and business leader, he is an executive who knows how to use executive power.”

And while Santorum was well ahead of his foe in Ohio polls for most of February, Romney was pulling ahead in the most recent Quinnipiac University survey released Monday. The poll showed Romney leading the one-time Pennsylvania senator with 34 per cent of support compared to Santorum’s 31 per cent.

Romney’s triumphs last Tuesday in Michigan and Arizona were followed by Saturday’s victory in the Washington state caucuses, giving him 207 delegates so far, according to unofficial estimates. A winning candidate needs 1,144 delegates to seal the nomination.

Neither Gingrich nor Santorum made the ballot in Virginia, limiting the opportunities for either man to gain ground on Romney.

As he campaigned in Canton, Ohio, on Monday, Romney kept his focus on Obama.

“I look at this campaign right now and I see a lot of folks all talking about lots of things, but what we need to talk about to defeat Barack Obama is getting good jobs and scaling back the size of government, and that’s what I do,” Romney, a former businessman, told the crowd at a campaign stop.

“What I know is the economy. I’ve spent my life in the real economy…. Other people in this race have debated about the economy, they’ve read about the economy, they’ve talked about it in subcommittee meetings, but I’ve actually been in it.”

Santorum put on a brave face in an interview with Fox News, insisting he still had a good shot of doing well on Tuesday despite being vastly outspent by Romney, a common refrain from the wealthy candidate’s competitors.

“We’re hanging in there,” Santorum said Monday from Ohio.

“We’re being outspent about six to one again in just about every state. It’s remarkable that we’re doing as well as we are. We’re just getting pummelled here in robocalls and direct mail and television advertising, and we’re hanging in there because we’ve got a message and Gov. Romney doesn’t, other than just running negative ads.”

As he’s done for weeks in both Ohio and Michigan, both blue-collar states, Santorum underscored his working-class roots.

“We feel very good that the people of Ohio are going to take the scrappy guy who grew up in a steel town in western Pennsylvania and help him win Ohio,” he said.

Gingrich, meantime, put in a plug for Canadian oil as he maligned Romney for being out of touch with Americans about gasoline prices. Romney mocked Gingrich over the weekend for promising $2.50-a-gallon gasoline to voters, calling it a pander.

Gingrich’s promised price — a fraction of the highest going rates in the U.S., where motorists in some states are paying more than $4 — equates roughly to about 66 cents a litre, a little more than half the average cost of gas in Canada.

Unlike Romney, Gingrich said, “I stand for everyday working Americans.”

In an appearance on “Fox and Friends,” Gingrich argued for a national domestic energy plan — one that would include the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, intended to funnel bitumen from the Alberta oilsands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The Obama administration has deflected a final decision on approving Keystone until after the vote in November.

“I believe that if we open up federal land, if we open up offshore, (if) the president (approves the) Keystone pipeline — that’s 700,000 barrels a day of Canadian oil.”

Gingrich added Romney doesn’t understand the importance of slashing gas prices because of his wealth.

“If you’re Mitt Romney and you’re rich enough, maybe you don’t get it — $2.50-per-gallon of gasoline is more than responsible…. If Romney wants to run as the candidate of high-price gasoline, that’s fine with me — we’ll lump him in with Barack Obama.”

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