ROSEMONT – Mitt Romney on Friday joined the parade of Republican candidates making stops in Illinois, a state that suddenly finds itself in the unusual position of being a player in the Republican presidential primary race.
Romney, bashed as a moderate by his GOP opponents, picked up the endorsement Friday of the right-leaning Chicago Tribune. The newspaper said it is endorsing the former Massachusetts governor for “his demonstrated abilities and the economic pragmatism at his core.”
The Tribune, whose endorsement of Barack Obama in 2008 general election was its first of a Democratic presidential candidate in its history, also pointed to Romney as being the only Republican still in the race who can “guide Americans through their own financial rescue.”
Polls have shown a slim lead in Illinois for Romney over former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul far behind.
Speaking at a coffee shop a few miles from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Romney made a pitch four days before Tuesday’s primary election – an appearance that came a day after former House Speaker Newt Gingrich campaigned in Illinois and hours before Santorum was scheduled to appear.
During the 10-minute speech at Pancakes Eggcetera in Rosemont, Romney touched on the familiar theme of his campaign: That he is the most qualified candidate because he is the most accomplished and experienced businessman.
“I understand how the economy works, not because I’ve debated it in Congress but because I’ve worked in the real economy,” he said in comments that included open criticism of President Barack Obama and a not-so-thinly veiled swipe at his Republican opponents, all of whom have spent the bulk of their careers in public office.
Romney also talked about high gasoline prices, an issue Republicans clearly believe they can capitalize on in the November general election.
He spoke of the “moms that are having a hard time paying for gas as they get their kids to and from school and practice and music lessons” and laid the blame on Obama. The gas prices, he said, have “gone through the roof, in part because of this president’s failure to develop our energy resources.”
The U.S. produced more oil in 2010 than it has since 2003, and all forms of energy production have increased, but rising energy demand in developing countries, a cold winter in Europe and tensions with Iran have put pressures on the world oil market and are among the contributors to higher gasoline prices.
Romney steered clear of any talk about social issues, including his comment during a recent interview that he would “get rid of” Planned Parenthood, which his campaign insists has been taken out of context. But that was the issue Democrats criticized him for just outside the front door of the coffee house.
Standing among a group of about a dozen women, all carrying signs reading “Keep Your Mitt(s) off Birth Control,” U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky suggested Romney’s comments will continue to dog him.
Romney, she said, has “said no to access to birth control, that he wants to get rid of Planned Parenthood and these extreme positions just don’t fit with the women of America who are determined not to go back.”
Romney’s campaign has said he did not mean to suggest his administration would eliminate Planned Parenthood, and he has since indicated he would focus on cutting off the organization’s federal funding, as Republicans in Washington and in state legislatures across the country have fought to do in recent months.