WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney told the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday he does not want to close Planned Parenthood, just strip it of federal money. Romney's comments were the subject of Democratic attacks after he said he wanted to "get rid" of the organization.
"Planned Parenthood is a private organization. What I want to get rid of is the federal funding of Planned Parenthood," Romney said in an interview.
With the lllinois primary Tuesday, Romney hits Rosemont on Friday morning--adding the stop Wednesday--and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stumps for him later that day at Elmhurst College -- at the same time President Barack Obama headlines a re-election fundraiser at the Palmer House.
Romney returns to Illinois on Monday and Tuesday.
Meanwhile, also on Wednesday, Romney -- in New York for fund-raisers -- held a telephone town hall with what his campaign said were "thousands" of likely Illinois Romney voters. On that call -- and in the Sun-Times interview -- he called chief rival Rick Santorum an economic "lightweight."
The Obama re-election team, aiming at women in general -- and suburban Chicago women specifically, a crucial vote in the state -- had Illinois Democrats Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Rep.Mike Quigley lead a national conference call the day after Romney, in Missouri, gave the Democrats an opening.
Discussing reducing the debt in a St. Louis TV interview, Romney said, "Is the program so critical, it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And on that basis of course you get rid of Obamacare, that's the easy one. Planned Parenthood, we're going to get rid of that. The subsidy for Amtrak, I'd eliminate that. The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities."
Schakowsky, who acknowledged that a president could not force Planned Parenthood to close, said Romney is an "extreme candidate" on women's issues.
"As Republican voters in my home state of Illinois head to the polls for next Tuesday's GOP primary, we know that Mitt Romney is going to come here to the Chicago suburbs and try to appeal to moderate Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, especially women," she said.
On other matters, Romney:
*Asked which iconic Chicago food he prefers -- ribs, deep dish pizza or Chicagostyle hot dogs -- said deep dish pizza.
*Said he would clinch the Republican nomination before the Tampa convention and took a swipe at Newt Gingrich and his SuperPac benefactor, billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson -- though not by name.
"Because of the way delegates are proportioned, it is a longer process this time around and because candidates get money from billionaires putting money into SuperPacs, candidates can last a lot longer. So it is a longer process but I believe we will get the 1,144 delegates we need before the convention," Romney said.
*Asked about the role of GOP moderates in Illinois and the party, as Republican presidential candidates run to the right, Romney said, "We are a big-tent party, we welcome folks from all political persuasions. But I am a conservative businessman, my record is as a conservative governor and the positions and principles I have described are conservative."
*Declined to pledge to make public the names of his "bundlers," people who use their networks to raise major contributions. Obama, Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP nominee, and former President George W. Bush voluntarily revealed bundlers.
"I am not aware of the policies of campaigns in that regard. We again will follow what the law tells us to do.
In regards to other policies, you need to get in touch with our campaign on that," Romney said.
*On Gingrich calling him a "weak front-runner" Tuesday:"Well, if I am a weak front-runner, what does that make him?"
*Asked about how Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, would do in a Romney White House, he said: "Well, I met Mayor Emanuel more than once and he is an intelligent, hardworking individual and I would expect to work with him as I would with the mayors of other great cities."