By David Espo
CHICAGO — A confident Mitt Romney is shifting toward the general election as his grasp on the Republican presidential nomination tightens with a win in Illinois, saying Tuesday that he would work with Democrats to solve the nation’s problems — or “die trying.”
Over the past two days, the GOP front-runner has focused almost entirely on President Barack Obama while campaigning in the Democrat’s home state ahead of Tuesday’s Republican primary. Now, he’s emphasizing his willingness to compromise with the opposition party if elected — a message aimed squarely at the center of the electorate rather than at GOP loyalists.
He said Obama clearly recognizes he must work across the political aisle but hasn’t been able to do so as president.
“I’ve had that experience. And I will either get that done or I will die trying,” Romney said before Illinois Republicans weighed in on the nomination fight. “I’m going to do everything I can to bring people together to accomplish what has to be done.”
Romney may be overstating his bipartisan credentials. Massachusetts Democrats report that the former governor grew increasingly partisan once he began to eye the presidency.
But his focus was clearly elsewhere, as he chatted via video conference with a handful of pre-selected supporters from Google’s Chicago headquarters.
Ignoring his Republican rivals altogether, he addressed issues likely to play prominently in a general election campaign against the incumbent president, like bipartisanship, China, health care and gas prices.
Romney also appealed directly to young voters, a voting bloc that overwhelmingly supported Obama four years ago.
“I don’t see how young people could vote for an administration that keeps putting in place trillion dollar deficits,” Romney said. “The growth of government is smothering dreams in this country.”
Also Tuesday, he raised more than $1.3 million at a luncheon fundraiser.
Romney’s general election focus comes as his campaign intensifies calls for his Republican opponents to give up what has become a near-mathematical impossibility.
Romney has already captured more delegates than his opponents combined, and is on pace to win the 1,144 needed in June.
Santorum’s unforced errors likely hurt him as well. On Monday, he suggested that neither the economy nor the unemployment rate was his top concern. He later explained his comments as being about freedom, not the economy.
The original comments sparked a rash of criticism that Romney picked up on at his final campaign stop of the day at Bradley University in central Illinois.