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Fresh from Iowa victory, Romney hits the airwaves

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, after winning the Iowa caucuses last night with just eight votes more than former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, showed today how unexpected an opponent Santorum is.

Asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” for two issues where Romney and Santorum differ, Romney couldn’t name one. “We really haven’t had much opportunity to get to know Rick Santorum on the issues,” Romney said. “Over the past several months, our efforts been focused on comparing and contrasting with Speaker [Newt] Gingrich, with Rick Perry, with Herman Cain. These are the guys who have led in the polls.”

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As candidates and voters wake up to a shifting landscape in the Republican presidential race, Romney did a full round of morning show appearances this morning, relishing his victory in Iowa, a state where he only recently started focusing his attention. The victory puts Romney in a strong position as he moves on to the next race – the Jan. 10 New Hampshire primary – where he is already ahead in all the polls. But it will also force Romney to work even harder to attract socially conservative voters, who could now coalesce around Santorum, and libertarian-leaning conservatives, who propelled Texas Representative Ron Paul to a strong third-place finish.

Romney expressed confidence this morning that he could attract conservatives. He pointed to his record balancing the budget as Massachusetts governor. He stressed a message of “constitutional principles,” and said he has received support from Tea Party members and evangelical Christians in New Hampshire. He pointed to 2008, when he was considered a more conservative alternative to eventual Republican nominee John McCain.

“Remember that I ran four years ago, and Mike Huckabee and I were the conservative choices in that campaign,” Romney said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

McCain is expected to to endorse Romney today.

Romney expressed confidence that he could win the Republican nomination. On “Morning Joe,” Romney said he will need to connect not only with conservatives but with all Americans. “We’re going to have to make sure that we have a 51 percent or better vote come November 2012,” he said.

Romney also gave the reason for his confidence: a national organization that he has been building for years. “Relative to the other guys in this race, I’ve organized a national campaign team. We have funding that we’ve drawn from different states. I’ve got the capacity to take this campaign all the way to Tampa,” Romney said on CBS News’ “The Early Show,” referring to the location of the Republican nominating convention. “That’s something which I think other folks in this race are going to find a little more difficult to do.”

Santorum has focused much of his attention on Iowa. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who did not compete in Iowa but is actively challenging Romney in New Hampshire, has focused almost exclusively on New Hampshire.

The most direct contrast Romney drew with any of his opponents was comparing his and Santorum’s backgrounds, highlighting his own record of job creation while trying to tap into the anti-Washington sentiment that many voters feel. Santorum spent 16 years in Congress.

“I spent my life, the first 25 years, in the private sector. I know a great deal about how jobs are created, how they come and how they go,” Romney said on “Good Morning America.” “Rick has spent most of his life in the governmental sector.”

Romney added on The Early Show, “If we want to have a nominee who can post up against Barack Obama with a record of job creation, and a record of having worked in the private sector, I start off with the strongest resume for that purpose.”

Asked about Paul on CNN’s “Starting Point,” Romney said Paul has clearly connected with a lot of voters and has “done a heck of a job.” But he criticized Paul for having an isolationist foreign policy. “My own view of the reading of history is that when America has been isolationist, we’ve seen bad things happen in the world, which ultimately results in America getting dragged into bad things: wars,” Romney said.

The candidate who has had the harshest words for Romney was Gingrich, who for a time topped the polls in Iowa but finished a distant fourth. Gingrich yesterday called Romney a “liar” for saying he bears no responsibility for the negative advertising against Gingrich that was put out by a pro-Romney super PAC. Romney said on several of the morning shows that he has “broad shoulders” and knows attacks will come from the Democratic National Committee, Obama, and his Republican rivals. On “Good Morning America,” Romney said Gingrich’s comment was “pretty heated rhetoric.” “I think he’s really angry, disappointed. He was leading in the polls by a pretty wide margin,” Romney said.

But, Romney said, “If you can’t handle the heat now, you certainly can’t handle the heat down the road.”

Shira Schoenberg can be reached at sschoenberg@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shiraschoenberg.
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