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Santorum, Romney Focus on Obama as Huntsman, Gingrich Target Frontrunners

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Jan. 5, 2012: Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks in Salem, N.H. (AP)

Trying to take the mantle as frontrunner in the Republican presidential race, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney targeted President Obama on Thursday in their race to win New Hampshire voters while Newt Gingrich targeted the frontrunners, by intentional insults or not.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, is reaching for a decisive victory next Tuesday in New Hampshire to solidify his standing. At a morning stop in Salem before heading to South Carolina, Romney labeled Obama a "crony capitalist," invoking a theme that Rep. Michele Bachmann had used before dropping out of the race.

Santorum, under new scrutiny after a strong showing in Iowa's kickoff caucuses, offered himself as "the conservative alternative" to Romney and claimed he's got the momentum to propel his campaign beyond New Hampshire.

"Our office is buzzing," Santorum said after an appearance in Manchester. "We're the folks that people are getting excited about." He dismissed Obama as "a president who doesn't understand us."

Gingrich, the former House speaker, trained his sights on Romney in a his first TV ad in the state in which he sized up his rival's economic plan as "virtually identical to Obama's failed policy." 

But he also gave a dismissive assessment of Santorum when asked to size up the former Pennsylvania senator, saying that "in historical terms, he would be a junior partner." 

Speaking at a senior center in Plymouth, N.H., Gingrich questioned whether Santorum has a "track record" for running a large-scale national campaign, as Gingrich did when he engineered the Republican takeover of the House in 1994.

"I think Rick;s a fine person, and we've worked together many years. I think there's some differences," said Gingrich, 68. "I worked with Reagan in the early eighties, both on developing the strategy for the Soviet empire and on developing the strategy for economic growth, so my roots, my understanding, for example, of conservative economics goes back probably 15 years older than Rick's."

Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor who skipped the Iowa caucuses, also hammered at Romney, casting him as a captive of Wall Street who won't bring about the change the nation needs. Hoping for a breakout, Huntsman offered himself as the underdog for New Hampshire voters to take "from the back of the pack" and move to the foreground.

In a one-two-three punch, Huntsman, Gingrich and Santorum all swatted away any notion of inevitability for Romney even as the Democratic National Committee's Rapid Response Team blasted 10 emails in a row on Thursday critical of Romney.

At a printing press company in Durham, Huntsman told employees: "We can't afford to have a coronation for president. We can't afford to have the establishment stand up and say, `Here's your guy: Mr. Romney, from Massachusetts."'

At a former train station in Tilton, Santorum told voters: "Don't settle for less than America needs."

At the senior center, Gingrich told reporters that Romney wouldn't "come anywhere near enough voters per state to become the nominee."

Romney pocketed a big endorsement Wednesday from Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee in 2008, who argued Thursday that it's time for the party to get behind Romney and "get into the main event" -- defeating Obama. McCain won New Hampshire's primary in 2000 and 2008 and remains popular with Republicans and independents, who can vote on Tuesday.

McCain was spending a second day on the trail with Romney and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, whose state is next in the primary lineup.

Romney, keeping the focus on the president, has a new TV ad in South Carolina that criticizes Obama for adopting "un-American" economic policies that hurt workers in the state and faults him for packing a government labor panel with "union stooges."

Romney's Republican rivals had no intention of heeding McCain's calls for a quick end to the GOP nomination fight.

Santorum, who lost by just eight votes to Romney in Iowa, is now focusing on raising money and building a strong enough organization to cement his status as a durable challenger to Romney.

His aides reported raising $1 million Wednesday alone, largely through a surge in online donations that crippled the campaign's website shortly after the Iowa results were announced. Campaign manager Mike Biundo has said the campaign's fundraising pace tripled over the last week.

Santorum is banking on not only being the conservative alternative to Romney that Republican voters can coalesce around, he's also coming up as the candidate who's got heart -- compared to Romney and Gingrich's very analytical and stoic approach to answering questions.

At one point in the day, Santorum discussed personal encounters with both former President Bill Clinton and Fox News analyst Juan Williams. During a question about an interview Santorum and wife did with Focus on the Family head James Dobson, Santorum got visibly emotional as the questioner mentioned how she's praying for his family.

Paul, who ended up third in the Iowa race, is taking some time off at home in Lake Jackson, Texas, where he has been resting, riding his bike and preparing for two weekend debates while his team continues to fundraise. 

He will return to New Hampshire on Friday and stay through Tuesday's primary. 

Texas Gov. Rick Perry also went home after saying he would reassess his candidacy following a weak fifth-place finish in Iowa, but he later announced he would carry on. He planned to test his sputtering candidacy in South Carolina, which holds its primary Jan. 21. Perry also was expected in New Hampshire for the debates.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.