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Republican Candidates Make The Rounds In Wis.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish. It's another Monday and another primary eve. Tomorrow, Republicans in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C. will vote to choose their presidential candidate. As NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, most of the campaign activity has centered in Wisconsin.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: At a building supply store this morning in Green Bay, Mitt Romney stood in front of stacks of wood and delivered a series of pointed attacks on President Obama. Then he took questions from the audience and it got off to a rocky start.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I guess a lot of people say that, you know, your Mormon faith may not be a concern in the election, but I think it might be.

SHAPIRO: As the young man began quoting verses from Mormon theology, an aide pulled the microphone away. Romney jumped in.

MITT ROMNEY: I'm sorry. We're just not going to have a discussion about religion, in my view, but I could - if you have a question, I'll be happy to answer your question.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I guess my question is, do you believe it's a sin for a white man to marry and procreate with a black?

ROMNEY: No. Next question.

SHAPIRO: In case you couldn't hear that, the question was whether Romney believes it's a sin for a white man to marry and procreate with a black woman. Another man asked about Romney's ability to connect with average Americans and Romney returned to that first tense exchange.

ROMNEY: This gentleman wanted to talk about the doctrines of my religion. I'll talk about the practices of my faith. I had the occasion at my church to be asked to be the pastor, if you will.

SHAPIRO: He said the experience taught him that most Americans carry a burden of some kind.

ROMNEY: We don't see it. We see someone on the street. They smile and say hello, but behind them they're carrying kind of a bag of rocks.

SHAPIRO: Romney said he wants to lighten that burden. He also talked about his wife's struggles with multiple sclerosis and breast cancer.

ROMNEY: And I watched her as a person with great strength and capacity. You don't always see the things that are happening in people's lives and yet she wants to help people.

SHAPIRO: Romney does not often delve into such personal details while he's campaigning. Natalie Holiday(ph) and her 14 year old twins drove to Green Bay from the small town of Algoma to see Romney. For her, the primary appeal is that this seems like a man who can fix the economy.

NATALIE HOLIDAY: It's frightening. I work in a grocery store, so I see the price of food. I see, just in the past year since I've been there, how much the cost of food has gone up. So it is a real concern for a single parent.

SHAPIRO: And she wishes Rick Santorum would leave the race already.

HOLIDAY: It divides the party. It divides us. We're already quite divided as a nation. I believe it could weaken the frontrunner's chances against Barack Obama.

SHAPIRO: A tough new ad from the Santorum campaign seems to support her fears. It starts with an image of Barack Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: What if I told you this man's big government mandating health care included $50 abortions and killed thousands of jobs? Would you ever vote for him?

SHAPIRO: After a few more examples, the ad reveals that these are actually descriptions of Romney policies. The Romney campaign says the claims are inaccurate, but the video shows the damage Santorum could do to Romney by staying in the race.

Santorum shows no sign of dropping out. Today, he visited another bowling alley. He's been to nearly one a day in Wisconsin and he held a mid-afternoon rally in the town of Oshkosh.

RICK SANTORUM: We're looking at what may be a nail-biter tomorrow. At least, I hope it is and, if you can make a difference, we win by 34 votes, I'm coming back to Oshkosh and thanking everybody here.

SHAPIRO: Polls suggest Santorum has almost no chance of winning any of tomorrow's three contests. Santorum says just wait until his home state of Pennsylvania votes in a few weeks, when he hopes to stage a comeback.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.