POLITICS
03/02/2012 05:14 pm ET

Mike DeWine, Rick Santorum Backer: Mitt Romney Can't Put Nomination Away

WASHINGTON -- Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Rick Santorum supporter who recently switched his endorsement from Mitt Romney, said Friday that Romney cannot close the deal with Republican primary voters -- and won't be able to.

"We've had this conventional wisdom that has loomed over this campaign that Mitt Romney is the strongest candidate in the fall and it's his turn," DeWine told The Huffington Post in a phone interview. "But he hasn't been able to put it away and it's clear he's not going to be able to put it away."

"So it clearly opens up the opportunity for Santorum to continue to gain the momentum," DeWine said. "The thing about Rick is the more people see Rick the more they like him. So the longer this race goes on, and it becomes clear that Romney's not going to put it away, then people will certainly feel more likely to vote for Santorum."

He continued, "Romney gets plus a few percentage points at least because people think, 'Oh it's going to be him. He's the inevitable candidate.'"

"It will be clear after Super Tuesday that he's not going to put this thing away, and it's not going to happen," he said. "This thing's going to go on for a long time. I think when that happens you'll start seeing more and more support build for Santorum."

DeWine's rhetoric could be seen as way to buttress former Sen. Santorum (R-Pa.) in the event that he loses the Ohio primary on Tuesday, which is the most politically significant contest of the 10 taking place on Super Tuesday. The latest polls have shown Santorum's lead over Romney in Ohio narrowing.

DeWine said the contest in Ohio on Tuesday will be close because Santorum has grassroots energy but Romney has more money. Politico reported Friday that Romney and a super PAC supporting him have spent a combined $3.9 million, compared to about $900,000 for Santorum's campaign and a super PAC supporting him.

DeWine said Romney's advantage is all money, and nothing else.

"Romney's got no organization and nothing on the ground to speak of, and certainly no energy," DeWine said. "He's got a lot of money. He does have that. And he's spending it. He's spending a bundle of money on negative robocalls and negative ads on radio and negative ads on TV."

But Romney has several experienced political operatives in Ohio, including Molly Donlin, who ran his Florida effort, and Jason McBride, who ran New Hamsphire for the former Massachusetts governor.

After losing Michigan this week by three points to Romney, Santorum's chance at gaining the momentum he would need to overtake the frontrunner seems to be slipping away.

But DeWine, who switched his support from Romney to Santorum about two weeks ago, accused the Romney campaign of stealing a delegate from Santorum.

"They stole a delegate in Michigan. You know, how desperate do you have to be to change the rules after the fact?" DeWine said in a separate interview Friday with Bloomberg's Al Hunt.

He was referring to the Michigan GOP's decision to allocate two at-large delegates, out of 30, to Romney, instead of splitting them between Romney and Santorum. That ruling gave Romney a 16-to-14 victory in delegates, rather than a tie.

Santorum also addressed this in a campaign stop in Chillicothe, Ohio.

"They were so embarrassed yesterday they decided to change the rules after the fact, and say, well we were going to apportion the state delegates but now we're just going to give an extra delegate to Gov. Romney because well, we felt bad that he didn't win here," Santorum said. "My feeling on that is, conservatives, Americans, play by the rules. We don't change the rules after the fact."

The Michigan GOP said its decision was dictated by a rule it adopted on Feb. 4 but never communicated to the press.

Santorum's legal counsel sent a letter to the Republican National Committee on Friday afternoon formally protesting the decision.

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