By Adam Beam, McClatchy Newspapers –
SUMTER, S.C.— Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said his record at Bain Capital – which included buying and later closing down a photo album plant in Gaffney – is the same as President Barack Obama’s record in bailing out the auto industry.
“What the president has done overseeing GM and Chrysler has been reminiscent of what people in the private equity industry do. To try and save the business, you have to cut back to a core that matches the revenue of the business,” Romney said Saturday in an interview with The State’s editorial board. “And so, the president has shuttered factories, closed down dealerships and thousands and thousands of people lost their jobs.
“If he attacks me (for Bain Capital), I’ll point out that’s what he did,” Romney said. “He’ll say he did that to save the country That’s the same reason we cut back as well, was to save the company.”
Romney’s comments come as evangelical conservatives are scrambling to coalesce behind another candidate because they fear Romney is not conservative enough. Saturday, at a private ranch in Houston, about 150 evangelical leaders from across the country endorsed Rick Santorum in an attempt to rally conservative donors the week before South Carolina’s pivotal primary.
“Part of the backdrop to this meeting was a desire not to see what happened in 2008 repeated again, where conservatives either stayed on the sidelines or were fragmented, allowing a moderate candidate to emerge in McCain who was not successful in securing the presidency,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told reporters during a conference call Saturday afternoon.
Republican presidential candidates have spent $11.3 million in TV ads in South Carolina. Santorum and his super PAC have combined to spend $1.5 million – well behind Romney, Rick Perry, Gingrich and Ron Paul – the Texas congressman who has targeted Santorum in attack ads.
“We believe that with strong consensus coming behind him that can aid in the fundraising that he will need to be successful in the primary,” Perkins said.
Santorum has been struggling with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for the support of South Carolina evangelical conservatives. Shortly after the Iowa caucuses, polls showed Santorum and Gingrich in a dead heat behind front-runner Romney. But three polls released Friday showed Santorum had fallen to third and, in one poll, fourth place.
That’s why Rick Tyler of the pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future PAC said not all evangelical leaders agree on a nominee.
“Newt Gingrich is surging in South Carolina and is within the margin of error in most polls. Rick Santorum is at the bottom of those same polls,” Tyler wrote in an email to McClatchy. “Endorsing Rick only serves to help Romney who has a terrible record on the issues evangelicals care about.”
Speaking to The State newspaper editorial board, Romney acknowledged Saturday that he is “known more as the economy guy.” But he is making a push for South Carolina’s evangelical voters, which make up between 55 percent and 60 percent of Republican primary voters, according to the polls.
This week, Romney has a radio ad in South Carolina saying he has the support of “conservative Christians,” and touting his pro-life credentials while governor of Massachusetts. And Saturday, speaking at a rally in Sumter, Romney said:
“We are not a secular nation. We are a nation that believes in a provident hand.”
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In Texas, Perkins said the issue of Romney’s faith — he’s Mormon — was not mentioned during the group’s two day meeting. And a Romney representative did make a presentation to the group on Friday night. But Perkins made it clear Romney was not the preferred candidate of evangelicals.
“This was not a ‘bash Mitt Romney’ weekend. Had it been, we would not have invited someone from his campaign to come speak,” Perkins said. “I think it was already kind of known when folks arrived here that Mitt Romney was not the candidate. If he were, there would have been no reason for this meeting.”
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But is it too little too late? Romney is the first Republican presidential candidate to win both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary in a contested election. Social conservatives have split support among several candidates vying to unseat the front-runner Romney.
“This could be exactly the right time going into South Carolina,” Perkins said. “South Carolina is probably a state that is more reflective of the social conservative movement. It has a higher than average percentage of evangelical social conservative voters – 55 percent, while the average is a little over 40 (percent) in the primaries. This is a good time to see movement toward a particular candidate as a consensus candidate for social conservatives.”
Romney defended his record on social issues to The State newspaper’s editorial board, saying, “I’m very much in favor of equal rights for all people regardless of sexual orientation, but marriage should be between a man and a woman. That has been my position throughout,” he said.
As governor of Massachusetts, Romney said he promised not to change the state’s existing abortion laws. However, he said he refused to sign an embryonic stem sell research bill when it came across his desk because, “I am fundamentally pro life.”