SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. It's the Republican presidential primary in Louisiana today. Mitt Romney leads the national polling and is way ahead in the delegate race, but Rick Santorum is out in front in Louisiana, according to the polls. Romney and Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul all campaigned there yesterday. Mr. Romney kept his focus squarely on President Obama. Rick Santorum tried to keep his focus on Romney, but spent much of the day on the defensive. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea has our report from Shreveport.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Normally, a campaign tries to have a message of the day - one topic for the candidate to hit hard. But yesterday, Romney had two. In the morning, it was health care. At an event in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, the candidate spoke of the failures of the Obama administration.
MITT ROMNEY: At the centerpiece of this failure is this piece of legislation back here, Obamacare.
GONYEA: Romney pointed a big sign behind him that read Repeal and Replace Obamacare. Yesterday was the second anniversary of what is officially called the Affordable Care Act.
ROMNEY: You note that the White House is not celebrating Obamacare today. They don't have any big ceremony going on. The president's not giving speeches on Obamacare, and that's for a reason. Most Americans want to get rid of it, and we're among those Americans. I want to get rid of it too.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
GONYEA: Though polling on the issue is hardly so cut and dry or so negative. Some polls do show public disapproval, but another is more people like it than don't. In the afternoon, Romney switched to topic number two, energy. He was in Shreveport. A towering natural gas drilling rig provided a backdrop as he assailed White House energy policies as too timid, too beholden, too environmentalist, too unwilling to tap into domestic energy supplies.
ROMNEY: As it relates to energy, he's held off almost every source of fossil fuel we can develop in this country. He's made it harder to get fossil fuels, whether gas or coal or oil.
GONYEA: And after a misstep by a top aide earlier in the week with a remark likening Romney's message to an Etch A Sketch, yesterday, Romney was back in button-down mode. In short, he was a front-runner. It was a different story for Rick Santorum when it came to message control. He started his day at a shooting range in Northeast Louisiana. He stood, pistol in hand, aiming at a paper target. That's when a women in the crowd said that he should pretend that it's President Obama.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Pretend it's Obama.
(SOUNDBITE OF SHOOTING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Bulls eye.
GONYEA: Santorum didn't hear that, but a scrum of reporters asked him about it moments later.
RICK SANTORUM: It's a very horrible, terrible remark. I'm glad I didn't hear it.
GONYEA: Santorum was also asked about another topic - the fatal shooting in Florida of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin. They were his first public comments the story.
SANTORUM: The fact that law enforcement didn't immediately go after and prosecute this case is another chilling example of, obviously, the horrible decisions made by people in this process.
GONYEA: In both of these moments, Santorum had firm, direct answers. Still, it was a day when he wanted to keep the pressure on Romney. But even when the topic was Romney, Santorum had to do damage control over something he'd said a day earlier. On Thursday, Santorum seemed to imply that if Romney is the nominee, that he'd just as soon keep President Obama in office. Yesterday, he said he was simply arguing that Republicans need a candidate who offers a great contrast to the president.
SANTORUM: I've said repeatedly and will continue to say I'll vote for whoever the Republican nominee is, and I'll work for him. Barack Obama is a disaster. But we can't have someone who agrees with him on some of the biggest issues of the day.
GONYEA: Mostly he's referring to health care in that statement. Santorum is favored to win in Louisiana. Romney would like to pull off a surprise victory. But short of that, he hopes to collect some more delegates, making it that much harder for Santorum to slow Romney's trek to the nomination. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Shreveport. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.