Lancaster, Pennsylvania (CNN) – Speaking in Republican stronghold Lancaster County Tuesday, the GOP’s likely presidential nominee Mitt Romney crystallized what’s at stake if his party loses the critical battleground state in November.
“We need to make sure we win Pennsylvania. If we win Pennsylvania, we’ll take back the White House,” Romney told a packed ballroom Tuesday night at the Republican Committee of Lancaster County’s spring event.
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That’s a tall order, since it’s been more than two decades since Republican nominee George H.W. Bush won the state in 1988.
The race for the White House shifted dramatically a week ago when former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum suspended his campaign in Gettysburg. That allowed the Romney campaign to take a few steps back, focus less on its remaining Republican opponents and begin to lay the groundwork for a competitive general election battle for Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes.
Romney, a businessman who served one term as governor of Massachusetts, criticized President Barack Obama for his record on creating jobs, particularly among women. That topic became a hot-button issue on the campaign trail after a Democratic operative and CNN contributor suggested his wife Ann was economically out of touch because she stayed at home to raise children.
"Did you know, by the way, that of the jobs lost during the Barack Obama presidency, 93% were women who lost those jobs?" Romney asked, repeating a statistic he's used frequently on the trail. "And the president said, 'Oh that’s because in the Bush years men tended to lose their jobs.' It’s like well, okay that may be true, but this president has prolonged the recovery, made it more difficult for us to come out of the recession and as a result the job losses have continued and women have borne the brunt."
While Romney's claim is true, it lacks important context. Of American jobs lost between January 2009 and March 2012, 92.3% were lost by women. But the statistic does not reflect that men constituted a much larger chunk of the job loss pie in the year leading up to Obama’s inauguration. Romney’s claim also does not reflect that job loss for women began in March 2008, almost a full year before Obama took office.
In addition to competing against Obama, his eventual general election opponent, Romney still has to contend with Republican Newt Gingrich, who also spoke at the Lancaster GOP dinner and has vowed to stay in the race until the convention in late August.
The former House speaker, who lived in nearby Harrisburg when he was young, made the pitch for party loyalists to vote for him next week while still urging voters to support the eventual nominee.
Gingrich said, “I came tonight in part to challenge you to take seriously carrying the state of Pennsylvania for this fall, because the objective fact is if we carry Pennsylvania, it is impossible for Barack Obama to win the presidency.”