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Santorum accuses Romney of playing 'dirty politics'

January 17, 2012|By Michael Finnegan
  • Rick Santorum arrives at the Yorktown warship in Mount Pleasant, S.C., for a campaign event.
Rick Santorum arrives at the Yorktown warship in Mount Pleasant, S.C.,… (Matt Roarke / Associated…)

Reporting from Mount Pleasant, S.C. — Rick Santorum accused rival Mitt Romney on Tuesday of running a “dirty politics” robocall campaign in South Carolina to discredit the former Pennsylvania senator and mislead voters in the state’s fiercely contested Republican presidential primary Saturday.

Campaigning at the Yorktown aircraft carrier museum in Charleston Harbor, Santorum slammed the former Massachusetts governor for an automated call that plays a tape of Santorum endorsing Romney’s 2008 run for the GOP presidential nomination.

“Gov. Romney, out there playing a recording from four years ago, and suggesting that I’m endorsing him, is another example of Gov. Romney misleading the public about my record and what I believe in,” Santorum told reporters as he left a town-hall-style meeting on the warship.

“It’s dirty politics, and I expect that from Barack Obama. I don’t ever expect it from a Republican.”

A supporter, state Sen. Larry Grooms, joined Santorum in denouncing Romney. “When a man running for the highest office of the nation sanctions a phone call where one of his opponents does a fake endorsement, something’s wrong with that,” he said.

Unfazed, Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams provided the full text of the robocall.

“We were very pleased to have Sen. Santorum’s endorsement of Gov. Romney last campaign and his advocacy of Gov. Romney as ‘the candidate who will stand up for the conservative principles that we hold dear,’” Williams said in an email.

The automated phone call tells voters explicitly that Santorum’s remarks favoring Romney were made in 2008, Williams said. 

Santorum’s remarks in the taped phone call clash with his argument -- made as recently as this morning -- that Romney’s ideologically mixed record shows that voters can’t trust him to govern as an authentic conservative.

“If you're a conservative, there really is only one place to go right now,” Santorum says in the call that Romney’s campaign has placed to thousands of voters. “I would even argue farther than that. If you're a Republican, if you're a Republican in the broadest sense, there is only one place to go right now, and that's Mitt Romney."

Santorum also assailed Romney for defending an attack TV ad that a "super PAC" has been running in South Carolina and Florida, which will hold its GOP primary Jan. 31.

Romney told Fox News on Monday night that he thought the ad, which highlights Santorum’s support of restoring the right to vote for convicted felons once they’ve served their time, was accurate.

But by showing an image of a prisoner wearing a jail uniform, Santorum said, the ad, run by the Restore Our Future super PAC, “gives the clear impression that it means people serving in prison should be given the right to vote.”

“There’s ads out there that are absolutely, certifiably false, and he says they’re OK because it gets him political advantage,” Santorum said, with a Korean War-era bomber as his backdrop. “This is a huge character issue on Mitt Romney’s part. He needs to step up and do the right thing and quit playing dirty politics, quit playing dirty dishonest politics.”

By law, candidates’ campaigns are barred from communicating directly with super PACs that support them. But Republicans running for president have been expressing opinions publicly about super PAC advertising when critics question the accuracy of a commercial.

“He’s now saying that what they’re doing, the lie that they are putting out there, is something, a lie that he’s going to stand behind,” Santorum said of Romney. “We don’t need someone who supports lies and promotes lies and stands behind those lies in order to get elected president.”

Campaigning on Tuesday in Florence, S.C., Romney said he heard that Santorum was “very animated that the super PAC ad says that he is in favor of felons voting.”

“Well, he is!” Romney said.  “What's he missing? That's his position. He says, 'Well, it makes it sound like they are people in prison.’ Well actually, people who have been released from prison are still called felons, if they have committed felonies. So we can all talk about ads or we can talk about what it takes to get Americans working again."

A spokeswoman for Restore Our Future declined to comment.

michael.finnegan@latimes.com

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