Romney Takes Step to GOP Nomination With Nevada Romp

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"I'm in this race because I care about Americans. I'm not concerned about the very poor," Romney told CNN's Soledad O'Brien in an interview Wednesday morning. "We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it. I'm not concerned about the very rich, they're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of America, the 90, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling and I'll continue to take that message across the nation."

Add "I'm not concerned about the very poor" to a growing list of Romney gaffes that already included his "corporations are people" line in Iowa last summer, his $10,000 bet to Rick Perry at a debate last December, and his "I like being able to fire people" comment in New Hampshire last month. And cue the attacks from his rivals.

"I really believe that we should care about the very poor, unlike Gov. Romney," Gingrich said.

"Out of touch much?" quipped Santorum.

"I misspoke," Romney said later in an interview with Nevada journalist Jon Ralston. "I've said something that is similar to that, but quite acceptable, for a long time."

But it was the type of mistake that could come back to haunt him in a general election showdown against President Obama, whose campaign wasted no time in pouncing on the comment.

Making matters worse for Romney during an otherwise easy week, his main argument -- his business experience that will enable him, unlike Obama, to jumpstart the nation's sluggish economy -- was weakened on Friday when a better-than-expected jobs report for January was released.

The country's economy added 243,000 jobs during the month. The unemployment rate decreased from 8.5 percent to 8.3 percent. The more the economy improves, the more likely voters will be to back Obama, analysts say.

While Romney in recent months has tried to train his fire more on Obama than on his Republican primary rivals, Gingrich's big victory in South Carolina and sharp attacks on his record have prompted the former Massachusetts governor to engage in campaign clashes more than he might have hoped.

Romney's campaign unleashed a barrage of negative attack ads on Gingrich in Florida -- of the $15 million they spent on television advertising in the state, only one ad was positive, and that was in Spanish -- and he aggressively went after the former House Speaker in the last two debates.

Undeterred, Gingrich has vowed to fight on all the way to the GOP convention this summer -- and his campaign is now preparing a new, sharper line of attack on Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts. One of Gingrich's pollsters told the Washington Times this week that Romney "has never been called to account for his record in the only elected position of voter trust that he has held."

That type of incoming fire will make February's nominating contests that much more crucial for Romney. With a win in Nevada -- and the bulk of the state's 28 delegates -- Romney would add to the 71 delegates he held after his Florida victory, but 1,144 are needed to win the GOP nomination, something that is mathematically impossible for him to accomplish before April.

Commanding wins in the remaining six states to vote in February, however, could so weaken Romney's rivals that come Super Tuesday on March 6, the race would be all but over.

To that end, expect Romney to stay on the offensive this month as the campaign trail heads to states where he is heavily favored.

In the 2008 primary, Romney won Minnesota, Colorado, Maine, Michigan and Wyoming. The only state voting in February that Romney lost was Arizona, the home state of his rival -- and the party's eventual nominee -- Sen. John McCain, and there Romney came in second.

Minnesota and Colorado hold their caucuses on Feb. 7, Maine holds its caucuses over the course of the week ending Feb. 11, Michigan and Arizona have their primaries on Feb. 28, and Wyoming's caucuses wrap up on Feb. 29.

The month -- comparatively a dead zone in the primary season -- provides Romney with a golden opportunity to take a stranglehold on the nomination, a nomination that will look all the more likely to be his if he manages to duplicate his resounding 2008 romp in Nevada. Don't bet against it.

Matthew Jaffe is covering the 2012 campaign for ABC News and Univision.

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