Mitt Romney said Wednesday that the primaries have shown his ability to connect with Republicans an independents alike, while Rick Santorum contended that the former Massachusetts governor faces mounting doubts within the GOP.
Santorum spent the day after winning the primaries in Mississippi and Alabama in Puerto Rico, which hosts its primary on Sunday. Romney, who heads to that U.S. territory later this week, spent Wednesday raising money in the New York area, and tried in a lone television interview to a general election campaign.
"This is ultimately a question about who can get the support of the Republican Party and independents to be able to win the White House," Romney said in an afternoon interview on FOX News. "And I'm very pleased with the fact that, over the last several contests, I got a million more votes than either Sen. Santorum or Speaker Gingrich from the Republicans in these contests."
While he won Hawaii's overnight caucuses, Romney nonetheless faced a withering media narrative after failing to carry either of the two conservative strongholds, stoking doubts about his core strength witthin the GOP. He still remains the odds-on favorite to accrue the needed 1,144 delegates to secure the nomination, though Santorum sought to take advantage of his competitor's difficulty in closing the deal.
"He looked like the odds-on favorite at the beginning of the campaign. We tend to do that as Republicans, sort of take the person next in line," Santorum said in an availability alongside Luis Fortuño, the Puerto Rican governor. "But I think what you've found is that Governor Romney is uniquely disqualified in making some of the most important arguments that we need to make in this country with the respect to the role of government in our lives."
Santorum still faced a challenge from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, with whom Santorum split the conservative vote in last night's primaries. Gingrich has vowed to continue with his campaign, and headed on Wednesday to Illinois, a major state which hosts a primary on Tuesday.
But Romney's fundraising on Wednesday presages a prolonged and more expensive primary, for which few Republicans seemed eager.
And for the former governor's part, he emphasized his success among conservatives who have shown up to the primaries and caucuses so far, and said the most conservative voters with whom he's struggled would end up rallying behind his candidacy in November.
"When you ask conservatives in these prior elections, 'Who, as conservatives, did you vote [for]?' I won the conservative vote," Romney explained. "Some who are very conservative may not be in my camp, but they will be when I become the nominee, when I face Barack Obama."