SALEM, N.H. — Each trying to sound every bit the nominee, Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum looked past each other to run down President Barack Obama's economic policies Thursday as they jockeyed for support in New Hampshire and reached out to voters in conservative bellwether South Carolina.
Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman were happy to level their criticism at Romney, casting the front-runner as too timid to take on Obama and bring about needed change.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, is reaching for a decisive victory next Tuesday in New Hampshire to solidify his standing. At a morning stop in Salem before heading to South Carolina, Romney labeled Obama a "crony capitalist," invoking a theme that Rep. Michele Bachmann had used before dropping out of the race.
Santorum, under new scrutiny after a strong showing in Iowa's kickoff caucuses, offered himself as "the conservative alternative" to Romney and claimed he's got the momentum to propel his campaign beyond New Hampshire.
"Our office is buzzing," Santorum said after an appearance in Manchester. "We're the folks that people are getting excited about." He dismissed Obama as "a president who doesn't understand us."
Gingrich, the former House speaker, kept up his campaign to pull down Romney. In his first TV ad aimed at Romney, Gingrich sizes up his rival's economic plan as "virtually identical to Obama's failed policy" and goes on to say that "timid won't create jobs and timid certainly won't defeat Barack Obama."
Gingrich also gave a dismissive assessment of Santorum when asked to size up the former Pennsylvania senator, saying that "in historical terms, he would be a junior partner." Speaking at a senior center in Plymouth, N.H., Gingrich questioned whether Santorum has a "track record" for running a large-scale national campaign, as Gingrich did when he engineered the Republican takeover of the House in 1994.
Huntsman, the former Utah governor who skipped the Iowa caucuses, also hammered 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.
Romney pocketed a big endorsement Wednesday from Arizona Sen. John McCain, who argued Thursday that it's time for Republicans to coalesce around Romney and "get into the main event" — defeating Obama. McCain won New Hampshire's primary in 2000 and 2008 and remains popular with Republicans and independents, who can vote in the primary.
The Arizona Republican, who spoke Thursday on CBS' "The Early Show," was set to appear with Romney and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley at campaign events in that state later in the day.
Romney, keeping his focus on the president, has a new TV ad in South Carolina that criticizes Obama for adopting "un-American" economic policies that hurt workers in the state and faults him for packing a government labor panel with "union stooges."
Romney's Republican rivals had no intention of heeding McCain's calls for a quick end to the GOP 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.
"We're the candidate that's on the rise," Santorum declared Thursday.
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 rally Wednesday 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.
In TV interviews after his Iowa victory, Santorum 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.
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 is taking some time off at home in Lake Jackson, Texas, where he has been resting, riding his bike, and preparing for two debates this weekend. He will return to New Hampshire on Friday and stay through Tuesday's primary. As recently as this week, Paul said he could not see himself becoming president.
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.
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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