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GOP Candidates Brace For Super Tuesday Contests


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

The Republican presidential hopefuls for were in full tasting mode over the weekend, from barbecue to breakfast, as they took their campaigns to voters ahead of Super Tuesday. Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich went on Sunday morning talk shows. Mitt Romney campaigned in the key states of Georgia and Tennessee.

NPR's Tamara Keith was along for the ride.


MITT ROMNEY: One or two pancakes?

KEITH: Mitt Romney was in a high school cafeteria in Snellville, Georgia to give a stump speech and take a few questions from voters. But first, he and his wife served up pancakes to supporters.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: We already voted for you. We are so excited.

ROMNEY: Thank you so much.

KEITH: The cafeteria was huge and overflowing. The event seemed tailor made to highlight what you might call the softer side of Mitt Romney.

ROMNEY: Boy, I'll tell you, Georgia turns out for free pancakes. Oh, my goodness.


KEITH: He wore jeans and skipped the tie, and made an almost passionate pitch about his business experience.

ROMNEY: The economy is what I do. It's what I know. It's what I've done. I haven't just read about it. I haven't just debated about it. I haven't just talked about it in subcommittees. I've actually done it - started businesses, run businesses. I know how to do it, and I want to get it to work again.


KEITH: Then he opened it up to questions.

ROMNEY: I've got a young man here. Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: If Iran were to get a nuclear weapon and aim at Israel, what would you do to stop it?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: What kind of judge will you appoint to the Supreme Court?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: What would you like to do with gas prices and how?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: What can you do to break this deadlock in Washington?

KEITH: For much of the campaign, town hall-style events like this one were rare for Romney, who has been criticized for not relating to voters. But he's held four in the past five days and has another one scheduled this afternoon in Ohio.

Often the questions have focused on foreign policy and the economy. One supporter last week asked him to tell a story that would show he has heart. And that appears to be the campaign's strategy.


ROMNEY: And so, and so I'm coming to you in Georgia today, asking for you to get out and vote on Tuesday. Get your friends to do the same thing.

KEITH: Romney spent the day campaigning in Georgia and Tennessee, two states recent polls show he doesn't have much of a shot at winning. A campaign strategist says it's all about picking up as many delegates as possible because, as the Romney team sees it, that's how their candidate is going to win the nomination.

For each candidate, the strategy heading into Tuesday is somewhat different, and they were quizzed on those strategies yesterday. Congressman Ron Paul continues his focus on caucus states. He appeared on CBS's "Face the Nation" from a distant caucus state where he was campaigning.

REPRESENTATIVE RON PAUL: Here in Alaska, there's a very good chance we'll come out with a majority of the delegates. In Idaho as well. As well as North Dakota.

KEITH: Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is hoping for wins in Ohio and Tennessee. He was on "Fox News Sunday" trying to pitch himself, and not Newt Gingrich, as the alternative to Romney.


RICK SANTORUM: It's always harder when you've got two conservative candidates out there running in the race, as we've seen in Washington and we've seen in some of the other states. We have the, you know, the anti-Romney vote, if you will. Both Gingrich and I are out there slugging away.

KEITH: He didn't directly call for Newt Gingrich to drop out but he did imagine a primary fight without Gingrich around.


SANTORUM: You know, eventually hopefully this race settles down and we'll get a chance to go one-on-one. And once that happens we feel very comfortable we're going to win this thing.

KEITH: But the former House speaker made it clear in four - yes, four - Sunday morning TV appearances that he's not going anywhere. This was Gingrich on ABC's "This Week" with less than kind words for Romney.


NEWT GINGRICH: Governor Romney, who's outspent all the rest of us by multiples, is the frontrunner without any question. But I think he's not a very convincing frontrunner and he's a long way from having closed out this race.

KEITH: Gingrich's plan is to win big in his home state of Georgia and take that momentum to other Southern states, including Alabama, Mississippi and later Texas. So far in this nominating process, though, momentum is one thing that's proven elusive for all of the candidates.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Canton, Ohio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.