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Romney on attack: Slams Obama on energy, Santorum on spending

February 06, 2012|By Robin Abcarian
(Emmanuel Dunand/Getty…)

Reporting from Grand Junction, Colo. — Fresh off his victory in Nevada, Mitt Romney turned his attention to Colorado, whose voters will caucus on Tuesday. In the modest meeting room of a slightly faded motel on the Rockies’ Western slope, where mining companies and environmentalists have battled over coal extraction, Romney slammed President Obama’s energy policies.

“I share his desire to see renewable sources of energy developed,” Romney said to loud applause. “But don’t forget we also have to have carbon-based fuels like natural gas or oil and coal.  The president said in his State of the Union address the other night that he was in favor of ‘all of the above,’ but then you look at the actions of his EPA and you realize they are really in favor of ‘none of the above.’ They hold off the development of our coal with regulations, they hold off on development of our natural gas resources, they hold off on the drilling of our oil…My policy will be that America must be energy secure and energy independent from the oil cartels.”

The message resonated with the crowd of a couple hundred. An elderly Romney supporter who would not give his name said he was happy to hear Romney address the issue. “Obama’s been trying to shut down the coal mines in Hotchkiss that have been here 30 or 40 years or more,” he said. “Same with gas drilling. These environmental groups are anti-the world.”

Meanwhile, as Romney focused on Obama, his campaign was busily slinging arrows at his rivals for the Republican nomination, especially former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who has begun looming as a potentially serious obstacle in Minnesota, which also votes Tuesday. Missouri votes as well, but the results are non-binding.

Santorum, who has finished first only in Iowa, is also expected to present a stronger than expected challenge in Colorado, where he campaigned last week. Colorado’s large community of evangelical Christians has been receptive to his emphatically conservative message on social issues. James Dobson, founder of the evangelical anti-abortion group Focus on the Family, endorsed Santorum last month.

The Romney campaign knocked Santorum for his embrace of earmarks when he served in the Senate. Santorum has said he eventually disavowed the practice.

In a call with reporters Monday, Romney surrogate Tim Pawlenty went after Santorum’s change of heart. “People change positions from time to time,” said the former Minnesota governor. “The fact that he has now tried to move away from the fact that he was a champion of earmarks is noteworthy. But the point is he has held himself out by saying he is the true conservative, he is the reliable, gold standard ... the perfect, or near-perfect conservative. We just want to make sure that the rhetoric and the claims and the image he is trying to present to the conservative base is not a false one.”

This is a line of attack for which Santorum has prepared.  “Go ahead-- attack me on earmarks,” he told a crowd in Dublin, N.H., on Jan. 6. “The people of Pennsylvania elected me to represent the interests of Pennsylvania and when they sent a whole bunch of money down, people of Pennsylvania wanted to make sure we got an adequate share back of the money we were sending [to the federal government].”

The Romney camp also sent an email “from the archives,” a copy of Santorum’s Romney 2008 endorsement. “Governor Romney is the candidate who will stand up for the conservative principles that we hold dear," Santorum said at the time. "Governor Romney has a deep understanding of the important issues confronting our country today, and he is the clear conservative candidate that can go into the general election with a united Republican party."

This time around, Santorum has said repeatedly that if Romney becomes the nominee, the most important weapon the GOP has against Obama this fall will no longer be useful: healthcare reform.  Obama has often said he modeled his own healthcare reform bill on the one passed by Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts.

A Santorum spokesman said the Romney campaign’s sudden focus was prompted by new polling data suggesting that Santorum is “by far Romney’s most significant opponent.”

Citing several polls, Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley said that Santorum is ahead of Romney in Missouri and Minnesota and “catching up” in Colorado.

That, said Gidley, “reveals that a trusted conservative is better positioned to defeat Obama than a moderate who agrees with Obama on big government healthcare mandates, government bailouts, and radical cap and trade initiatives.”

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