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In pre-debate warm-up, Santorum jabs at Romney, blasts Obama

February 22, 2012|By Mitchell Landsberg

Reporting from Tucson — Hours before a debate with his three Republican rivals, former Sen. Rick Santorum took some light-hearted jabs at his chief rival, saying of Mitt Romney’s new tax proposal: “Welcome to the party, governor.”

Hours earlier, Romney had called for a 20%, across-the-board cut in individual tax rates. Santorum has also called for cuts in income taxes, proposing two rates of 10% and 28%.

Speaking to a capacity crowd of several hundred at a tea party gathering in Tucson, Santorum saved most of his criticism for President Obama, questioning his moral values and accusing him of “trying to crush the traditional Judeo-Christian values” of the country. Santorum has been sharply critical of the Obama administration’s decision, since amended, to require religious employers to include contraception in their employee healthcare plans.

“We’re seeing very evidently what the president’s moral codes and principles are about,” he said.

He also criticized Obama’s immigration policies – a hot topic in Arizona – and pledged that, if elected, he would complete a wall along the Mexican border. He said that the General Accounting Office has estimated that the border is “42% secure,” then asked: “How can you be 42% secure? You’re either secure or you’re not, right?”

None of his direct attacks were aimed at his Republican rivals. But he did say at one point that GOP primary voters should vote for someone with a consistent track record, “not someone who has been, as one person has suggested, a well-oiled weathervane.” He didn’t name Romney, but the inference was not lost on the crowd, which laughed appreciatively.

Afterward, sisters Linda Arnold, who lives in a Tucson suburb, and Brenda Boyd, who was visiting from Jacksonville, Ill., said Santorum’s speech had persuaded them to vote for him.

“He seemed so genuine,” Boyd said. “He is passionate about what he says.”

“No baggage,” her sister said. Arnold said she had been considering a vote for Newt Gingrich, but would side with Santorum because he has the best chance of defeating Romney. She said she has nothing in particular against Romney. “I’m just not jazzed,” she said.

mitchell.landsberg@latimes.com

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