GOP presidential candidates campaign in Ohio


BLUE ASH, Ohio (AP) -- Three of the four Republicans vying for the presidency campaigned Saturday in delegate-rich Ohio, among the 10 states holding contests on Super Tuesday in what will be the campaign's biggest payday.

Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were fighting for the state -- and it promises to be another important test for Romney, who seeks to quell doubts about his candidacy from voters and the party establishment. Romney won the Washington state caucuses Saturday.

In Ohio, Santorum spoke at a morning rally that drew hundreds in Blue Ash, a conservative suburb of Cincinnati. He called for fewer children born out of wedlock and fewer single-parent families.

"You go to the neighborhoods in Cincinnati where there are no dads, where the churches have bailed out, where the community organizations don't exist, and what do you find? Government everywhere. Do you find freedom?" he asked voters. "Not even the churches want to locate there because of the problems that are confronted with a society that has allowed the family to break down, morality and freedom to break down."

The former Pennsylvania senator repeatedly lashed out at Romney, charging that the health care policy implemented while Romney was Massachusetts' governor had inspired President Barack Obama's health care bill and forced Catholic hospitals in the state to distribute the "morning-after pill."

"He is uniquely unqualified to go against Barack Obama in the biggest issue in this election," Santorum said.

Romney spoke at USAeroteam, an aerospace and defense manufacturer in Beavercreek, outside Dayton, and criticized Obama after a woman attending the rally said she had a daughter stationed in Afghanistan who believes the U.S. mission there is unclear. The woman asked when Romney would bring the troops home.

"If your daughter is not familiar with the mission that she's on, how in the world can the commander in chief sleep at night, knowing that we have soldiers in harm's way that don't know exactly, precisely, what it is that they're doing there," Romney said.

He said he'd bring troops home "as soon as humanly possible -- as soon as that mission is complete."

Romney also said he would seek the repeal of legislation that passed Congress in 2002 to tighten accounting standards in the wake of the collapse of Enron and an ensuing scandal that cost shareholders millions of dollars.

The Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses offer a total of 419 delegates and stretch from Vermont to Alaska -- where Texas Rep. Ron Paul was set to campaign Saturday -- but the top showdown is in the industrial state of Ohio, a rematch of sorts after Michigan's primary. Romney won narrowly there over Santorum.

While polls show Santorum in a close race with Romney in the state, it is not clear he can fully convert any success in the primary into delegate strength. There are 63 delegates at stake in Ohio, of which 48 will be allocated, three at a time, to the winners of the state's 16 congressional districts. Santorum has only 30 of the 48 delegate slots filled for those contests.

During his Ohio appearance Saturday, Gingrich made no mention of Romney's win in Washington state. Instead, he focused his remarks on his plan to try to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

Gingrich blamed Obama for rising gasoline prices, accusing the president of blocking attempts to expand domestic oil production.

"We should drill, drill, drill," Gingrich said at a Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner in Bowling Green.

Gingrich has focused much of his agenda on an energy plan that he says would expand domestic production of oil and natural gas and reduce gasoline prices to $2.50 a gallon.

During a campaign stop earlier in the day, he drew laughs when he recalled what a voter in Tennessee had told him recently about rising gasoline prices. He said the man had said Obama has his own version of former candidate Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan.

"He wants us to pay $9.99 a gallon," he said.

The former House speaker spoke at the Back Porch Saloon, a restaurant-bar in West Chester Township, about 25 miles north of Cincinnati.

Gingrich has said he must notch a Super Tuesday win in Georgia, where he launched his political career, but said he also has a chance to pick up delegates in Ohio.

All three candidates were to participate in a forum hosted in Ohio by Mike Huckabee and taping Saturday afternoon. The event was closed to media.

Santorum's comments on family underscore his commitment to social issues, while Romney is almost singularly focused on the economy while campaigning.

Some Republicans -- even among the hundreds waving signs at Santorum's Blue Ash rally Saturday morning -- fear he's gone too far.

"He needs to start talking more about the economy and get off the social issues, because I don't think that's what's going to make him president. The economy is going to make him president," said Joan Conradi, a 50-year-old nurse from nearby Mount Healthy, who was holding a "Santorum for President" sign.


Associated Press Writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report from Bowling Green, Ohio.