By Josh Lederman - 03/21/12 01:51 AM EDT
Mitt Romney took the fight to President Obama as he declared victory in Illinois on Tuesday, sounding more like a presidential nominee than a primary candidate still scrambling for delegates.
Speaking to supporters in Schaumburg, Ill., after easily winning the state’s primary, Romney congratulated his Republican rivals, then turned his sights on the Democrat he hopes to unseat in November.
“Tonight was a primary, but November is the general election, and we’re going to face a defining choice as a people,” Romney said.
“This election will be about principle. Our economic freedom will be on the ballot. I’m offering a real choice and a new beginning. I’m running for president because I have the experience and the vision to get us out of this mess.”
“You can’t learn that teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago,” Romney said. “You can’t even learn that by being a community organizer.”
He also joked that had Obama been in the White House earlier in history, he would have prevented the Wright brothers from inventing the airplane due to dust pollution and would have banned Thomas Edison’s light bulb.
“Oh, by the way — they just did, didn’t they?” he said, reviving a laugh line he tried out the day before to hit Obama for supporting regulations on inefficient bulbs.
The EPA's regulations on light-bulb efficiency are part of an energy bill that was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007.
Romney acknowledged his own career had included both successes and failures, but said he had amassed an even greater understanding about what makes the American economic system more powerful, contrasting free-market principles with the big-government philosophy he attributed to Obama.
“We once led the world in manufacturing, in exports, investment. Today we lead the world in lawsuits,” he said. “When we replace a law professor with a conservative businessman as president, that’s going to end.”
Romney’s win in Illinois followed two weeks where Santorum won every state, although Romney won the territory of Puerto Rico on Sunday. The campaign turns Wednesday to Louisiana, bringing the focus back to the Deep South, where Romney has struggled and Santorum and Gingrich have demonstrated strong appeal.
Romney has downplayed Louisiana, anticipating it might not be winnable, but he emphasized his appeal in all corners of the country on Tuesday as he worked to bolster the argument he’s the most electable candidate against Obama.
“Elections are about choices, and today, hundreds of thousands of people in Illinois have joined millions of people across the country to join our cause,” he said.