|Ann and Mitt Romney with Springfield Mayor Mike Houston (background) at a local diner.|
By Jamey Dunn
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney stopped in the state capital this morning as part of his push to gain support in Illinois before tomorrow’s primary.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, focused on the economy and energy policy as he addressed the crowd at Springfield's Charlie Parker’s Diner. “People across this country are wondering what they’re going to do with these gasoline prices,” Romney said. “ A lot of moms wonder: Can they take their kids from event to event and to school and to soccer practice? People are hurting in this country with gasoline prices the way they are.”
He said the increasing gas prices have been “caused to a degree” by President Barack Obama’s energy policy decisions. However, as Republicans have made gas prices a predominant issue in the primary, some have argued that the spiking price at the pump has less to do with energy policy and more to do with speculators gambling on the market or international crises.
Romney’s nod to mothers seems to be a part of his efforts to connect with female voters in the state. His wife has been regularly taking the podium at campaign events, voicing her concerns about the nation’s deficit and the legacy that will be left to her children and grandchildren. “I am hearing this from women everywhere. They are concerned about the economy. I love it that women are talking to me about the economy and about deficits,” Ann Romney said today.
The Romneys' message resonated with some of the women who came out to see him this morning. “I like his ideas. I want somebody that’s going to cut spending, but my main interest is energy independence. I send emails all the time to congressmen. I send them to Romney all the time,” said Diane Munkirs, a retiree from Rochester.
“I read his book — parts of it — and I really liked his emphasis on family,”said Munkirs, who described herself as a political news “junkie.” “People fuss about him not being as conservative, it seems, as other [candidates]. But yet, as a Mormon — that’s a conservative religion. As a businessman, you have to be conservative with money. He has five boys. I think they’re probably a pretty conservative family. I just think he’s a great candidate. I really do." She said she is urging Republicans and Tea Party members she knows to back Romney so the party can line up behind him and he can build a war chest that will rival Obama’s successful fundraising totals. “We should all get behind Romney, and let’s get going and have a candidate to support.”
Illinois politicians came out to support Romney, touting him as the candidate who can defeat Obama. U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock said, “As Illinoisans, we know better than anyone what Barack Obama and his team are all about.” At the mention of the president, who began his political career in Springfield, a few audience members responded with groans. “Of all the candidates in this race, in the Republican primary, there is only one candidate who has put together the organization in every state, who has raised the resources that can go to go toe to toe with Barack Obama and who has the track record of being able to withstand the inferno of attack ads and win on election day, and that is Gov. Mitt Romney.”
But at least one Obama supporter was in the crowd today. “I think that it’s important to see issues from both sides of the aisle,” said Kerry Hansen, a Springfield resident who said she turned 21 today. “He was a good speaker. He was very nice. I got a picture with him. It’s my birthday, so I pulled the birthday card.” Picture aside, Hansen said she does not plan to vote for Romney because she doesn’t support his views on social issues such as same-sex marriage. She also said she agrees with the national mandate that insurance provide birth control for women, something Romney has opposed on the grounds that it would force religious employers to go against their beliefs. “I do think gay marriage should be legalized. I think abortion should be made safe. I think birth control should be free under health care,” Hansen said.
Romney made no mention of his Republican opponents by name, but he did hint at them not having the experience he says is needed to pull the country out of its slump. “I’m someone experienced in the economy. I’m not an economic lightweight. We’re not going to be successful in replacing an economic lightweight with another economic lightweight. We’re going to have to replace him with someone who knows how to run this economy.”
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, Romney’s closest opponent, is also travelling the state looking for support. He hit back at recent events, calling Romney a “Wall Street financier” who was unable to create jobs in his stint as governor. Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul trail behind but have yet to exit the race. They latter two have made appearances in the state but are not putting on the kind of 11th-hour campaign blitz that Santorum and Romney are in Illinois.
Illinois has 54 delegates up for grabs in tomorrow’s election. Fifteen other Illinois delegates will head to the Republican convention in June not tied to any candidate. Santorum failed to meet the filing requirements in four of the state’s 18 congressional districts, so voters in those districts will not be able to choose delegates to back him for the nomination. This means Santorum cannot compete for 10 of the state’s delegates. A candidate must get 1,144 delegates nationwide to win the Republican nomination. Heading into tomorrow's primary, Romney has 521, Santorum has 253, Gingrich has 136 and Paul has 50. Recent data from Public Policy Polling gives Romney a comfortable 15-point lead in the Illinois primary tomorrow.
For an interesting look at what Illinois Republican officeholders past and present think of Romney and the race for the Republican nomination, see Politico.