Reporting from Atlanta — A day after his defeats in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota, Mitt Romney pounded Republican presidential rivals Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich on Wesnesday as big-spending Washington insiders whose careers show scant evidence of fiscal restraint.
The Republican Party, he said, "lost its way" by borrowing and spending too much, particularly on the pet projects "earmarked" by members of Congress, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Santorum and former House Speaker Gingrich deserve some of the blame.
"Under Newt Gingrich, earmarks doubled," Romney told reporters here on an airport tarmac. "Rick Santorum was a major earmarker and continues to defend earmarks."
By Romney's count, Santorum voted to raise the debt ceiling five times -- $3.5 trillion, all told – and government spending rose by 80% when he served in the House and Senate.
"Republicans spent too much money, borrowed too much money, earmarked too much, and Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have to be held accountable," said Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts.
Romney's rhetorical blast was part of a familiar pattern. He has repeatedly tried to ignore his GOP opponents and focus instead on President Obama, only to be reminded by a rude defeat that other viable contenders could still block his path to his party's White House nomination. On Tuesday, he was set back again by Santorum's decisive victories in the Missouri primary and Colorado and Minnesota caucuses.
Asked to explain his latest defeats, Romney said he had put less effort into Colorado and Minnesota than Santorum had, and predicted he would beat him "where we compete head-to-head in an aggressive way."
In other words, Romney is poised to reprise the sort of scathing TV ads that he his supporters ran against both Santorum and Gingrich as the three tussled last month with Texas Rep. Ron Paul in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.
Romney's superior fund-raising will play to his advantage as the four compete in the Feb. 28 primaries in Arizona and Michigan, followed by "Super Tuesday" contests scattered across the nation on March 6.
"There's no such thing as coronations in presidential politics," Romney said after arriving here for a rally in what used to be Gingrich's home state of Georgia, one of the Super Tuesday states. "It's meant to be a long process. It's not easy to get the nomination. It's not easy to be elected president."