JUDY WOODRUFF: As the Republican candidates hit the trail today, Mitt Romney used his decisive lead to go after the president. And Romney’s allies put Rick Santorum on the defensive for using earmarks.
The man to catch in New Hampshire started his day in South Carolina. Several new polls showed Mitt Romney also taking an early lead in the Palmetto State, with Rick Santorum rising as well.
At a rally in Conway, the former Massachusetts governor took aim at President Obama’s new defense initiative.
MITT ROMNEY (R): Yesterday, he announced a major program to reduce the capacity of our military. Inexcusable, and unthinkable, and it must be reversed. We have to protect our military.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, Arizona Sen. John McCain, who is traveling with Romney, chastised other GOP candidates for their support of earmarks, federal funds members of Congress direct to specific projects back home.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: When Newt Gingrich was speaker of the house, earmarks exploded. When Rick Santorum sponsored earmark after earmark, I went down to the floor and fought against those.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Santorum held a series of town halls throughout New Hampshire today. In Dublin, he defended himself against the earmark attacks, saying he was doing right by his home state of Pennsylvania.
RICK SANTORUM (R): So, you can say, oh, earmarks are bad. There are men and women who have an improved quality of life and maybe are alive today because we did that. Am I defending earmarks? No, because they got abused.
And they did in fact lead to higher spending. And that’s why we put a stop to them, because the public saw this as a referendum on whether you were serious about cutting spending.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Gingrich, campaigning in Newport, also went on the attack against the front-runners. He spoke this morning on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
NEWT GINGRICH (R): Everyone assumes and I think Romney has a huge lead because this is one of his three best states, but it’s also the right place to lay out how big the gap is between a Reagan conservative and a Massachusetts moderate.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Somewhere amidst this pack of microphones and cameras is former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. Fresh off an endorsement from The Boston Globe, he was swamped by reporters today in Concord, New Hampshire.
QUESTION: You have been here a while. Do you think you’re getting a fair shake by the New Hampshire voters at this point?
JON HUNTSMAN (R): We will know soon enough. Wherever I go, I feel that I’m getting a pretty fair shake, absolutely.
JUDY WOODRUFF: After taking a couple of days off, Texas Rep. Ron Paul made his way to New Hampshire today. He spoke to a boisterous crowd in Nashua.
REP. RON PAUL, R-Texas: They call us dangerous.
REP. RON PAUL: Ooh.
And, you know, in a way, we are — to their empire! That’s what we’re dangerous to.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
REP. RON PAUL: We’re dangerous to the special interests and the big spenders, the people who want to run our lives.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Gov. Rick Perry is scheduled to arrive in New Hampshire this evening from Texas, where he tweeted a photo of himself today at a shooting range.
In South Carolina, he began airing this TV ad focusing on his roots.
GOV. RICK PERRY, R-Texas: As the son of tenant farmers from the West Texas town of Paint Creek, I learned the values of hard work, faith, and family. The values I learned serve me well as governor of Texas and will continue to guide me as president.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The entire GOP field will next share the stage tomorrow in Manchester for the first in a pair of weekend debates.