By KASIE HUNT, Associated Press
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Mitt Romney trumpeted a flurry of conservative endorsements along with backing Monday from a delegate who belonged to campaign dropout Jon Huntsman as he looks to wrap up the GOP presidential nomination.
The former Massachusetts governor highlighted the ongoing primary slog as the conservative chorus behind him grew, along with worry that the drawn-out nomination fight will damage their likely nominee against President Barack Obama.
Campaigning in California, Romney made an appeal to primary voters in a contest still two months away on June 5. "I need you guys to get ready, to organize your effort, to get your friends to vote, to collect some money, to get campaign contributions," Romney told employees at medical device maker NuVasive in southern California. "We've got a ways to go."
Romney announced support from Utah Sen. Mike Lee, an early tea party supporter who ousted a longtime incumbent Republican. The GOP presidential front-runner also earned backing from California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the third highest-ranking House Republican, and from Al Cardenas, head of the American Conservative Union.
Huntsman delegate Paul Collins, who ran the former Utah governor's campaign in New Hampshire, also signed on with Romney.
All four urged fellow Republicans to unite behind Romney and save the GOP from more months of a nasty, drawn-out primary. Together, their backing represents an increasing groundswell of conservative support for Romney after his Illinois victory last Tuesday. Lee, in particular, represented a coup for Romney. He was one of the first national tea party voices and Romney had spent nearly a year personally courting him. He visited Lee's Senate office last June to ask for his support.
While in California, Romney planned five separate fundraisers with deep-pocketed donors over the next two days, largely eschewing traditional campaign events to raise money to pay for the primary campaign against chief challenger Rick Santorum.
Still, Romney on Monday went after President Barack Obama for telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more "flexibility" to deal with missile defense after his "last election" in November — remarks caught on tape when the president thought he was speaking privately.
"That is an alarming and troubling development. This is no time for our president to be pulling his punches with the American people," Romney said.
The Obama campaign accused Romney of distorting the president's remarks.
"Gov. Romney has been all over the map on the key foreign policy challenges facing our nation today," campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement, accusing Romney of "chest thumping" and "empty rhetoric" on foreign affairs.
As Romney and Obama looked past the primary to each other, however, Santorum showed up outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington to urge supporters to back him over the former Massachusetts governor.
Santorum has called Romney the "worst" conservative standard bearer because of his record on health care in Massachusetts, where Romney signed the law that became the blueprint for Obama's national health law. The high court was hearing arguments over whether the federal law is constitutional.
In California, Romney stood in front of a "Repeal & Replace ObamaCare" sign at the medical device company, which was founded with venture capital. He attacked the medical device tax included in the health care law — though he didn't, during a more than 20-minute speech and despite the sign, explicitly call for the law's repeal.
Still, he said, the law and other Obama politics are getting in the way of the American dream.
"These dreams are crushed. Tax by tax, regulator by regulator, regulation by regulation, Washington is crushing the dreams, and crushing the dreamers," Romney said.
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