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Romney plays catch-up in Illinois
By David Beery | Daily Herald Staff

Mitt Romney shakes hands with supporters Sunday at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.

 

Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

He's too young to vote on Tuesday, but Jack Kennefick, 8, of Naperville is still a supporter.

 

Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

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Published: 2/3/2008 11:56 PM | Updated: 2/4/2008 6:51 AM

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With presidential hopefuls scrapping for every possible vote before Super Tuesday primaries, the Republican campaign trail curled through the Western suburbs Sunday for the second time in less than 48 hours.

Mitt Romney, trying to stem rival John McCain's momentum, told backers at the College of DuPage Sunday afternoon that he -- and not McCain -- is the true conservative standard bearer in the GOP contest.

Standing in front of his trademark "Washington is Broken" banner, Romney told an enthusiastic crowd of a few hundred that he will "stand up for the principles of the Republican Party and live in the house that Ronald Reagan built."

The former Massachusetts governor drew a loud chorus of "No's" when he asked: "Are we going to take a sharp left turn in our party and get as close as we can to Hillary Clinton?"

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As he does consistently, Romney hammered McCain for the Arizona senator's initial vote against President Bush's tax cuts; his cooperation with Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy on a failed bill that featured a citizenship path for illegal immigrants; and his co-authorship of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law -- which Romney termed an erosion of First Amendment rights that also harms Republicans' ability to raise campaign funds.

Romney told his DuPage audience that he is fighting for "the heart and soul of the Republican party."

His emphasis on the economy and his private-sector background contrasted with McCain's focus on Iraq and military strength Friday during a speech to a Lincoln Day Dinner audience in Oakbrook Terrace.

Nationally, Romney's campaign enjoys the backing of such conservative talk show personalities as Rush Limbaugh, who consider McCain's views on taxes, campaign finance and immigration to be unacceptable departures from party doctrine.

But complicating Romney's quest to win the nomination by appealing to conservatives is the continued presence in the race of Mike Huckabee. The former Arkansas governor has not carried a state since his Jan. 3 Iowa caucus victory. But he competes with Romney for conservative voters and is expected to fare well Tuesday in four southern states, including Arkansas.

Questioned by reporters Sunday about McCain's lengthening lead in some polls, Romney noted that the polls have been fluid throughout the campaign. He said he thinks many voters still are making up their minds in advance of Tuesday's voting in two dozen states.

On the Republican side, many of those states are winner-takes-all contests, meaning that any candidate winning a plurality of GOP votes will claim all of that state's delegates. This stands in contrast to Democratic Party rules, which allocate convention delegates in proportion to the popular vote for each candidate.

Romney made his DuPage appearance before presidential contenders bowed to the reality of Super Bowl Sunday and suspended campaigning for the remainder of the day.

McCain did his Sunday campaigning in Connecticut. On the Democratic side, Clinton made campaign appearances in Missouri while Barack Obama did an event in Delaware before flying home to Chicago to watch the Super Bowl.

Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, was scheduled to speak at a Tennessee church Sunday.