SALEM, N.H. — Shooting past each other, Republicans Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum took aim at President Barack Obama's economic policies on Thursday as they jockeyed for support in New Hampshire and courted voters in conservative bellwether South Carolina.
The newly recast field finds Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, reaching for a decisive victory in New Hampshire to solidify his status as the putative Republican front-runner. At a morning stop in Salem, N.H., before heading to South Carolina, Romney labeled Obama a "crony capitalist" and a "job killer."
Santorum, under new scrutiny after a strong showing in Iowa's kickoff caucuses, also focused on Obama as he tried to sound every bit the nominee.
"I don't think most Americans believe the vision of America that Barack Obama is selling," he told Rotarians in Manchester. "We have a president who doesn't understand us."
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who skipped the Iowa caucuses, chose to hammer at Romney, casting him as a captive of Wall Street who won't bring about the change the nation needs. Hoping for a breakout, Huntsman offered himself as the underdog for New Hampshire voters to take "from the back of the pack" and move to the foreground.
Newt Gingrich, still reeling from a barrage of negative ads unleashed on him by a pro-Romney super PAC, bluntly dismissed Romney's efforts to cast himself as the most electable challenger to Obama.
"The fact is, Gov. Romney has a very limited appeal in a conservative party," the former House speaker said, setting aside his pledge to run a positive campaign and sharpening his criticism of Romney.
A pro-Gingrich super PAC sought to undercut Arizona Sen. John McCain's endorsement of Romney, posting online an ad the 2008 Republican presidential nominee ran against Romney when the two competed for the party's nomination.
"Mitt Romney's flip-flops truly are masterpieces," said the ad revived by Winning Our Future.
Romney pocked a big endorsement Wednesday from McCain, and the two appeared together onstage at rallies in Manchester and Peterborough. McCain won New Hampshire's primary in 2000 and 2008 and remains popular with Republicans and independents, who can vote in the primary.
Just two days after the first votes were cast in the nomination fight, McCain said Thursday it's time to "get this thing done with as quickly as possible and get into the main event" — defeating Obama. The Arizona Republican, who made a plea for Republicans to quickly coalesce around Romney on CBS' "The Early Show," was set to appear with Romney and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley at campaign events in that state later Thursday.
Romney, looking past his GOP rivals, has a new TV ad in South Carolina that criticizes Obama for adopting "un-American" economic policies that hurt workers in the state and of packing a government labor panel with "union stooges."
Romney's GOP rivals had no intention of quickly ceding the nomination fight.
The Iowa caucuses did little to clarify what has long been a fractured GOP field, with Romney and Santorum battling almost to a tie in that state and libertarian Texas Rep. Ron Paul placing third. The result demonstrated anew the difficulty Republicans have had in choosing between Romney, a former business executive who governed as a moderate, and a more dynamic, conservative alternative.
For now, Santorum has taken on that role.
The former Pennsylvania senator lost by just eight votes to Romney in Iowa, a strong showing due to a socially conservative message and dedicated politicking across the state's 99 counties. His challenge now is to raise money and build a strong enough organization to cement his status as a durable challenger to Romney.
Santorum aides reported raising $1 million Wednesday alone, largely through a surge in online donations, which crippled his campaign's website shortly after the Iowa results were announced. Campaign manager Mike Biundo has said the campaign's fundraising pace tripled over the last week.
At a Wednesday evening rally in Brentwood, Santorum urged supporters to keep the faith.
"Don't settle for someone who can win but then can't do, won't do and has no track record of doing the big things that are necessary to change this country," he said.
Santorum had a full schedule of campaign stops across New Hampshire on Thursday. In TV interviews after his Iowa victory, he was challenged on his conservative views and record in Washington.
On CNN, he was asked about past comments equating homosexuality with bestiality.
"One can have desires to do things that we believe are wrong, but it's when you act out on things, that's the problem," Santorum said Wednesday.
He also defended so-called earmarks — congressional spending designed to benefit lawmakers' home-state projects.
"When you go to Congress, you fight to make sure that when taxes go from your state to Washington, D.C., you fight to make sure you get your fair share back," he said, adding that he now opposes earmarks.
Santorum also suggested he had been misinterpreted while discussing Medicaid when he appeared to single out black recipients for criticism.
Paul was headed to New Hampshire for campaign events after taking time off at home. Texas Gov. Rick Perry also went home after saying he would reassess his candidacy following a weak fifth-place finish in Iowa, but he later announced he would carry on. He planned to test his sputtering candidacy in South Carolina, which holds its primary Jan. 21, and was expected in New Hampshire for two debates this weekend.
"We're going to go into places where they have actual primaries and there are going to be real Republicans voting," Perry said, dismissing Iowa as a "quirky" place.Comment on this story
Iowa spelled the end for at least one candidate. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann announced Wednesday she would step aside after placing sixth in Iowa, the state where she was born and where she won a Republican straw poll last summer.
Fouhy reported from New York. Associated Press writers Shannon McCaffrey, Kasie Hunt, Steve Peoples and Holly Ramer in New Hampshire and Chris Tomlinson in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.
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