Nashville_Mitt Romney argued Monday that he was the real conservative in the Republican race with John McCain as he kicked off a 36-hour sprint to Super Tuesday. Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, locked in a tight contest, searched for support in the delegate-rich Northeast.
The former Massachusetts governor told voters in a series of coast-to-coast stops that hardcore Republicans were telling him, "We don't want Senator McCain; we want a conservative."
McCain leads Romney in national polls and has seized the momentum and major endorsements after two straight wins in South Carolina and Florida. Yet, some conservatives are uneasy with the four-term Arizona senator who has backed a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, campaign finance reform and opposed President Bush's tax cuts although he now wants to make them permanent.
McCain has cast Romney as a flip-flopper on key issues. The Vietnam veteran and longtime member of the Senate Armed Services Committee has contended that his rival lacks the foreign policy and military affairs experience needed as the country battles Islamic terrorists.
On the Democratic side, Obama and Clinton planned stops in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Clinton was taking a break from campaign events - and getting some prime air time - with an appearance on the CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman." She also planned a one-hour interactive town hall that would be broadcast on the Hallmark Channel.
While normally eschewing poll results, Romney cited one unnamed survey he said showed him leading in California, and another he said confirmed a neck-and-neck race in Georgia.
"It's a very tight race. A lot of people said it's just going to be, you know, a very easy race for Senator McCain. But you know what's happened? Across the country, conservatives have come together and they say, you know what? We don't want Senator McCain; we want a conservative," Romney said Monday at the Pancake Pantry in downtown Nashville.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said in introducing Romney: "We know that a lot of freedom-loving, flag-waving people are going to find their way to the polls on Tuesday."
Some two dozen states vote on Tuesday, from New York to California to Alaska. At stake for the Republicans were 1,023 delegates, up for grabs on the Democratic side - 1,681 delegates to the national convention.
McCain has cast Romney as a flip-flopper on key issues, and the former naval aviator has declared that his rival lacks the foreign policy and military affairs experience needed as the country battles Islamic terrorists.
From Nashville, Romney was headed to Atlanta, before turning back around and flying to Long Beach, Calif., for an evening rally. En route, he was taking advantage of a refueling stop to hold a news conference in Oklahoma City. After his stop on the West Coast, Romney was flying overnight to West Virginia, where he planned to address the state GOP convention Tuesday morning.
Asked if he could continue his candidacy if he lost California, Romney said: "It depends on what the numbers show. Ill take a look at what were seeing, and I expect to win, and I'm going to only forecast for victory and success as I go across the country."
Romney predicted that he and McCain will divide the spoils in California.
"I think you're going to see a growing crescendo of Republican conservatives getting behind my candidacy. Right now that hasn't entirely happened. There are a few states where some folks are holding out for another conservative voice, but my guess is that after Tuesday, youre going to see this coalesce into an entirely a two-person race and in that setting, I think I win," he said.