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Romney remaking image ahead of Super Tuesday

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Hayley Peterson

CINCINNATI -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney sought to erase his image as an out-of-touch elitist as he rallied to overtake rival Rick Santorum in Ohio just days ahead of the most consequential election night of the campaign so far, Super Tuesday.

The normally staid former Massachusetts governor and multimillionaire business executive was exuding far greater emotion in campaign stops over the weekend, talking about returning warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan, calling for a moment of silence for victims of tornadoes in the Midwest and reviving a 2008 campaign story about how he shut down his venture capital firm one day so he and his employees could help search for a colleague's missing daughter.

"So there we were, a bunch of folks in suits walking around in the park of New York and in the streets and showing pictures and saying, when we saw teenagers, 'Have you seen this girl?'" Romney said.

Cantor endorses Romney
On Sunday the No. 2 House Republican, Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, endorsed Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential race, giving Romney a boost among conservatives heading into Virginia's primary Tuesday.
"Mitt Romney is the only candidate in the race who has put forward a bold, pro-growth, pro-jobs plan for the future," Cantor said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "He is the guy I believe that will be our nominee."
Cantor, the House majority leader who had vowed to remain neutral in the presidential race, is one of the party's highest-ranking conservatives and his endorsement may open the door for other conservatives to finally embrace Romney and help him secure the party's nomination.
Cantor said he already cast his ballot in Virginia for Romney. His endorsement is not a bid for the vice presidency, he added. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has also endorsed Romney, though there is talk of McDonnell as Romney's running mate.
"This is about Mitt Romney and making sure that he is put into office," Cantor said. "This is not about that. I am not open to that." -Hayley Peterson

Romney is recalibrating his campaign after nearly losing his home state of Michigan to Santorum, who's blue-collar roots have helped him connect with the very same conservative voters with whom Romney is struggling to seal the deal for the nomination. The latest polls show Romney and Santorum in a dead heat in Ohio, the biggest and most closely-watched prize among the 10 states holding their nominating contests on Tuesday.

Ohio has 66 convention delegates to offer but, more importantly, it is a key swing state in the General Election battle against President Obama.

To win Ohio, Romney has to play up his Midwestern roots and show voters that he's "one of them," said Cincinnati native Gary Meisner, a landscape architect, who turned out to see Romney.

"There is a lot of common sense in the Midwest," said Meisner. "Mitt just needs to reconnect to the Midwest in a simple way. He needs to talk about how growing up in the Midwest influenced his career, and let it come forward naturally.

"Every American wants their president to be someone who has a heart," Meisner said. "They want their president to be approachable and have a sensitive side."

Romney has alienated some voters with off-the-cuff remarks intended to show he can relate to the average American but which, inadvertently and awkwardly, only underscored how different his life experiences were from the voters he's trying to woo.

He told a Detroit audience how his wife drives "a couple of Cadillacs," and then told NASCAR fans that he doesn't follow the races too closely but has "some friends who are NASCAR team owners." He described the nearly $400,000 he earned in speaking fees alone one year as "not very much," and once casually offered to bet a debate opponent $10,000.

Perhaps no one, including the candidate himself, has done more to help voters see Romney as a regular guy than his wife, Ann, who regales audiences with stories of a dedicated dad and husband.

"I know Mitt has the skill set, he's got the experience to do what's right -- but he also has the right heart," Ann Romney said in Cincinnati. "That's my job, is to let people know all the good stuff about this guy that I love so much."

hpeterson@washingtonexaminer.com

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