Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, greet patrons while campaigning at the Montgomery… (Gerald Herbert / Associated…)
Reporting from Atlanta — Heading into the Super Tuesday contests when more than 400 delegates will be at stake, Mitt Romney’s advisors argued that the momentum in the Republican presidential nominating race was shifting in their favor after their win Saturday in Washington state.
Romney senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom said the campaign believed as recently as a week ago that Romney's chief rival, Rick Santorum, would win the Washington contest. Fehrnstrom and other Romney advisors continued to argue that Santorum is unfit to serve as the party’s nominee. On the campaign plane between Ohio and Georgia, he cited House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's endorsement as the latest example that the Republican Party was falling in line behind Romney.
"I've got to believe in the back of his mind [Cantor] is also thinking about maintaining a Republican majority in the House," Fehrnstrom said. "Elected Republicans are looking for someone who has coattails and not concrete shoes .... Nominating a person who doesn't have any experience in the private sector, has been a Washington insider all his life, like Rick Santorum, is not a good contrast for the Republican Party to put up against Barack Obama."
As Romney fights the perception that his losses in states like South Carolina, Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota reflect his troubles connecting with average voters, the campaign hopes to overcome that by continuing to notch wins. They have also ramped up their effort to contrast Romney's well-funded operation with Santorum’s threadbare campaign.
Romney's top legal advisor, Ben Ginsberg, said during a conference call Saturday that Santorum's inability to get on the ballot in Virginia and certain congressional districts in Ohio -- should "give Republican voters great pause" as the party looks ahead to the contest with President Obama.
"The day after Super Tuesday, the Santorum campaign is going to be looking at a sufficient deficit to Gov. Romney in bound delegates," Ginsberg said. "Any realistic hope of closing the gap fades away with his organizational incompetence."
Santorum has shrugged off the Romney campaign's critique of his organization. "If that’s the only thing that they find a problem with my candidacy, we’re in pretty good shape," he told reporters in Wilmington, Ohio, on Saturday.
The Romney campaign has been most focused on Ohio, where he is in a dead heat with Santorum and on Sunday began trying to sway Ohio voters with automated calls featuring a recorded message from former First Lady Barbara Bush (her message is also being used in Vermont, another Super Tuesday state). On Sunday, the former Massachusetts governor headed to Georgia and Tennessee in the hunt for delegates.
Advisors acknowledge that Romney does not expect to win in either of those states -- Georgia is Newt Gingrich's home state -- but say they believe they can pick up delegates in a number of suburban districts around Atlanta as well as Savannah, where Romney fared well when he ran four years ago. Both Georgia and Tennessee award delegates by Congressional district.
Still, the campaign is preparing for the race to continue for weeks if not months. One Romney advisor said he expected the GOP field -- which has narrowed to four candidates -- to be exactly the same after Super Tuesday.