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On to Colorado, Santorum renews attack on heathcare overhaul

January 31, 2012|By Robin Abcarian
  • Rick Santorum speaks to a crowd at the Lone Tree Golf Club in Lone Tree, Colo.
Rick Santorum speaks to a crowd at the Lone Tree Golf Club in Lone Tree, Colo. (Ed Andrieski / Associated…)

Reporting from Lone Tree, Colo. — In its essence, Rick Santorum’s pitch to voters boils down to this: I am the only true conservative in the race and the only candidate who is not compromised on the single most important issue of the 2012 presidential election -- the repeal of President Obama’s healthcare reform law.

Santorum arrived precisely at 10 a.m. Tuesday to address a crowd of about 200 at a suburban golf club half an hour from Denver. Wearing his trademark sweater vest, Santorum began his talk with a rousing call to defend what he described as an assault on the freedom of Americans at the hands of the Obama administration.

He spoke about a looming threat, in the form of a new rule from the Department of Health and Human Services, that will require all employer-provided healthcare plans, including those by nonprofit religious employers to offer contraceptive health services to women and forbids plans from charging women co-payments. (HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius cited documentation that birth control has “significant benefits” for women, including reducing health costs. The rule, she said, would have no effect on “existing conscience laws,” which allow religious institutions to opt out of providing services such as abortion.)

“What the government said last week,” said Santorum, his voice dripping with sarcasm, “'Under Obamacare, you are gonna have to provide insurance coverage, free coverage, for things that are absolutely against the teaching of the Catholic Church — free sterilization, free abortifacients.’ You are making us do things against our faith! Barack Obama and Kathleen Sebelius said ‘Too bad. If it goes against what you believe, then you believe the wrong things.’

“This is just the the tip of the iceberg of what we can expect.”

Sitting in the audience in the Lone Tree Golf Club Lounge, Katherine Gerd, 73, enthusiastically agreed with Santorum’s dire prediction. “Obama wants Catholic hospitals in his health bill to do abortions, sterilizations. In the schools, he wants contraception approved. He’s really attacking our religious freedom,” said Gerd, who is Catholic.

Santorum said he would not criticize former House Speaker Newt Gingrich or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for their business dealings, which they have each been using to beat each other up in a virtual carpet bombing of television ads in Florida.

But he attacked Romney with gusto on the issue of the universal healthcare plan he spearheaded in Massachusetts, and said, as he often does, that if Romney is the GOP nominee, then Republicans will be ceding their most important issue before the general election campaign even starts.

Given his dismissal of Romney’s viability, Santorum has had to explain his support for Romney in the last Republican presidential primary contest. “I supported Gov. Romney 'cause he went out and said ‘I’m a conservative now.’ A few months after I endorsed him, he went out and supported the Wall Street bailouts. If that’s the kind of business you are going to do in Washington, we can do without a businessman in Washington, D.C.”

Santorum was less restrained when a man in the audience stood and announced: “I don’t think Gingrich has moral character — not in fidelity, not in his word, not on his negative attacks. Can you call him on the carpet and say Gingrich, you are not suitable for president of the United States?”

Revved up (and in control of the microphone), the man continued: “Take a poll. How many women in this room will vote for Newt Gingrich? It’s just a question of morality.” He noted that only one woman had raised her hand. “One woman here,” he said looking toward the back of the room. “You’re awfully young. You haven’t been cheated on yet.”

“Our job is to forgive people if they ask for forgiveness, and he has,” Santorum said. “I don’t question the sincerity of his repentance. But two issues are open: The issue of trust, whether you feel someone has truly changed. Just because you forgive them doesn’t necessarily mean they have changed their ways.”

He also knocked Gingrich for lacking another important presidential trait: “Anybody here for a moon colony? You just see things come out that are not disciplined.”

A moment later, Kendal Unruh, a middle-aged woman from nearby Castle Rock, stood and announced: “I have a problem with Speaker Gingrich changing women like most men change underwear.”

Santorum, who was scheduled to make two appearances in Las Vegas later Tuesday before returning to Colorado for a day of campaigning Wednesday, appealed to voters to support the candidate who best represents their conservative ideals, which must, he said, include social issues. “Do the right thing,” he urged. Though he won by a hair’s breadth in Iowa, he is not expected to fare well Tuesday in Florida.

“Don’t let the pundits decide who can win and who can’t. Four years ago, you were told John McCain was the guy cause he could win. How’d that work out for you?”

Later, Unruh (who said she is related by marriage to the late California Democratic political icon Jess Unruh) said she had walked in undecided and was leaving a Santorum supporter.

“I’m gonna cast my vote the way I should,” she said. “I’m gonna vote with my heart, not with my head. I’m just gonna vote my conscience.”

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