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Santorum mocks Romney on Olympics turnaround

February 18, 2012|By Mitchell Landsberg
(Jay LaPrete/Getty Images )

Reporting from Columbus, Ohio — Rick Santorum hit Mitt Romney where it hurts Saturday, attacking his stewardship of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The Games, of course, are among Romney’s proudest achievements, and he frequently touts his role in turning them around following a bribery scandal. But Santorum, speaking to a boisterous tea party gathering in Ohio’s capital, used them to swing back at Romney’s assertion that the former Pennsylvania senator was “a big proponent of earmarks” during his days in Congress.

In a mocking tone, Santorum said that Romney “heroically bailed out the Salt Lake Olympic Games -- by heroically going to Congress and asking them to bail out the Salt Lake Olympic Games. In an earmark!”

He also said Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, had encouraged his state’s congressional delegation to win a half-billion dollars in earmark spending for the state. ”Does the word 'hypocrisy’ come to mind?” Santorum asked.

The crowd of about 250 people, many waving Santorum signs and wearing his campaign buttons, responded gleefully. The response was more muted when Santorum defended the concept of congressional earmarks, which are used to set aside funding for specific programs in a member’s state or district. He conceded that the system had been flawed, but said that Congress had reformed it during his time in office.

“There was abuse and we stopped it. But the idea that every earmark is a bad one is false,” he said.

A Romney campaign spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, issued a statement responding to Santorum’s attack. “Sometimes when you shoot from the hip, you end up shooting yourself in the foot,” she said. “There is a pretty wide gulf between seeking money for post-9/11 security at the Olympics and seeking earmarks for polar bear exhibits at the Pittsburgh Zoo. Mitt Romney wants to ban earmarks, Sen. Santorum wants more ‘Bridges to Nowhere’.”

Santorum’s speech came at the beginning of a day of stumping in Columbus and Akron, part of a two-day swing through Ohio. The state is one of the largest prizes in the Republican primary on March 6, Super Tuesday, and likely to be a key swing state in the November election.

His remarks were interrupted several times by raucous standing ovations as he hammered home the theme of freedom from government intrusion in Americans’ lives.

“I believe in what Rick Santorum is preaching,” retired nurse Nancy Montell said after the speech. “It’s God, family and country, and we need desperately to return to our values. I believe in my guns and my religion, and I pray that he gets into office.”

mitchell.landsberg@latimes.com

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