By Alicia M. Cohn - 03/14/12 07:57 PM EDT
Mitt Romney got somewhat heated on Wednesday in defending the strength of his candidacy following a third-place finish in two Southern primary contests the previous day.
He also got in a few digs at his GOP opponents, saying the country does not need an “economic lightweight” when discussing Rick Santorum and expressing disappointment that Newt Gingrich has stated his new goal is to prevent Romney from getting enough delegates to secure the nomination.
Romney fought back hard when responding to The Associated Press’s assertion on Wednesday that his losses in Alabama and Mississippi — where Santorum won both states and Romney came in third — indicated that the “core” of the Republican Party “does not want him.”
“I’m sorry, but they have to go back and look at some other states that are actually kind of important, let’s say Florida, for instance, where I won, and Michigan, and Ohio, and Nevada, and New Hampshire; the list goes on,” Romney replied. “Last night, by the way, they’re forgetting that there were a couple of other contests, like Hawaii, where I won. Oh and by the way, last night I got more delegates than anyone else.”
The country does not need an “economic lightweight” as a nominee, Romney said, going on to refer to Santorum as an example.
He added that his personal wealth is a strength of his campaign.
“Guess what, I made a lot of money. I’ve been very successful. I’m not going to apologize for that,” Romney said. “I understand the economy not because I’ve debated the economy in a subcommittee of Congress; I understand the economy because I’ve been in it. I’ve lived it.”
He dismissed the idea that voters would choose the next president based on the “innuendo” the Democratic National Committee has pushed. The DNC has often highlighted Romney’s wealth to suggest he is out of touch with working class voters.
Asked to respond to Gingrich’s new stated campaign goal — to keep Romney from winning the 1,144 delegates necessary to secure the GOP nomination — Romney expressed disappointment.
“I sure hope that those quotes that you described aren’t accurate, because Newt and his wife are friends,” Romney told Fox News host Megyn Kelly. “I hope what they’re focusing on is the country, and who can do the best job [at] one, replacing Barack Obama, and two, returning to America the principles and values that made us the hope of the earth.”
But Gingrich’s spokesman, R.C. Hammond, has said not only does the Gingrich campaign want to block Romney from getting the necessary delegates, the campaign wants to keep Romney’s count “well below 1,000.”
"This will be the first time in our party in modern politics that we're going to go to the convention floor,” Hammond promised, speaking to reporters shortly before Gingrich’s speech conceding the votes on Tuesday night.
“This is a bigger matter than replacing one person for another. It’s about saving the soul of America,” Romney continued.
Following Super Tuesday last week, his campaign suggested it was time to narrow the field, but Romney said Wednesday it’s not his place to give advice on whether other candidates should drop out of the race.
He said he is still certain that the party will eventually unite around one nominee.