Rick Santorum reacted indignantly Wednesday to an assertion from Mitt Romney’s campaign that it would take an “act of God” for Santorum to win the Republican presidential nomination.
“What won’t they resort to try to bully their way through this race?” Santorum asked following a campaign rally at Harvest Graphics, 14625 W. 100th St. in Lenexa. “If the governor (Romney) thinks he is now ordained by God to win, let’s just have it out.”
In becoming the first GOP candidate to campaign on Kansas soil this year, Santorum displayed fresh confidence about his prospects — though he continues to trail Romney in the delegate count by more than 2 to 1.
“I’m going to stay in the race because we’re doing really well,” Santorum told reporters following a campaign rally before 200 to 300 supporters on the day after Super Tuesday. “We’re winning states, and where we’re not winning, we’re finishing second, by and large.”
Of this Saturday’s Kansas caucuses, Santorum predicted another Midwestern win. He pointed out that he already carried the surrounding states of Missouri, Oklahoma and Iowa.
“Just make sure you keep that center of the country bright red strong conservative right here in Kansas,” the former senator from Pennsylvania said.
On the day following the 10-state series of contests, where Romney won six states to Santorum’s three, Republicans appeared increasingly resigned to the idea that the GOP contest likely had weeks — even months — to go before a candidate clinches the nomination with 1,144 delegates.
“We are still in the middle of a great debate internally about who would be the best nominee to take on (President Barack) Obama,” said Republican consultant Jeff Roe of Kansas City. “We do not have a decision. We have a split decision, and we’re going into overtime.”
Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University in Topeka, said the race effectively has two front-runners.
Democrats, meanwhile, continued to revel in the GOP’s indecisiveness.
“The Romney campaign I think wanted to put the campaign away … instead of Super Tuesday, it became Super Glue day for them — they’re still struck with Santorum and with Gingrich and with the prospect of a long race here,” said David Axelrod of the Obama campaign.
But Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said he wasn’t concerned by the prolonged battle.
“Don’t always assume that a primary fight is a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s the opposite. I think it’s going to be great for our party,” Priebus said.
The latest delegate count showed Romney leading with 415 to Santorum’s 176. Newt Gingrich was third with 105 delegates, and Ron Paul had 47.
Following Saturday’s Kansas caucus with 40 delegates at stake are two important Southern primaries on Tuesday: Alabama and Mississippi.
On Wednesday, Romney’s aides insisted that their candidate’s overwhelming lead will be protected by his superior organization and financial edge.
The Romney camp said their calculations showed that the former Massachusetts governor must win only 48 percent of the remaining delegates. But Santorum would have to carry 65 percent of those remaining delegates, while Gingrich would have to take 70 percent.
“The nomination is an impossibility for Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich,” one senior Romney campaign aide told Politico. “All we have to do is keep doing what we’re doing (and) we can get the nomination. These guys, it’s going to take some sort of … act of God to get to where they need to be on the nomination prize.”
In a sign that his campaign is struggling, Gingrich announced Wednesday that he was canceling an ambitious series of stops in Kansas on Friday and Saturday that had included a Capitol meeting with lawmakers and plans to watch the Big 12 tournament in Johnson County.
Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said the former House speaker had opted to focus on Alabama and Mississippi, which he said now both rank as must-wins if Gingrich is to remain credible.
But Santorum said he was confident of wins in those two Southern states as well.
“This race is going to change again in the next week, and Kansas will lead the charge,” he said.
GOP leaders in Kansas said a visit from Romney was possible today, but as of late Wednesday, the campaign had announced no specific plans.
Paul, the congressman from Texas, intends to visit several Johnson County caucuses Saturday morning, but his campaign had not released a schedule.
Santorum is scheduled to return to Missouri on Saturday for a campaign stop in Cape Girardeau. Missouri’s caucuses will be a week after Kansas’ on March 17, and will be used to pick convention delegates. Its February primary was non-binding, meaning that the results did not decide the awarding of delegates.
A Santorum aide said the campaign picked Harvest Graphics for its campaign event because the company’s owner, John Cowan, had built the business from scratch and because it was family-owned. But Santorum never referred to the business during his speech, which spanned 34 minutes.
Santorum once again attacked Romney for his support of a universal health care system in Massachusetts when he was governor. Santorum said Romney on three occasions advocated that the Obama administration adopt a Massachusetts-style plan.
Santorum also chided Romney for having four to five home states.
“I’ve got one home state,” Santorum said of Pennsylvania.
He again emphasized his campaign’s ability to overcome long odds and Romney’s built-in organizational and financial advantages.
“We have a great opportunity … to stand up to the establishment,” Santorum said, “to stand up to all the money, to stand up to all the power brokers.”
Santorum described himself as an insurgent who “speaks for the people.” And he criticized Obama for exploding the size of government and federal spending and for not speaking out on the amount of debt being accumulated.
Santorum said when his grandfather came to this country in 1925, he didn’t enroll in government programs or receive government benefits. Then, only 8 percent of government spending went to entitlements. Today, Santorum said that number is 60 percent.
“This is an authoritarian government, not a government that respects free people,” Santorum said. “This is an election about fundamental freedoms.”