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Santorum says messy Romney-Gingrich fight in Florida hurt GOP

January 31, 2012|By Robin Abcarian
  • Rick Santorum speaks during a primary night watch party at his Nevada campaign headquarters in Las Vegas.
Rick Santorum speaks during a primary night watch party at his Nevada campaign… (John Gurzinski / Associated…)

Reporting from Las Vegas — Undaunted by his distant third-place finish in Florida, Rick Santorum told supporters at his Nevada headquarters Tuesday evening that the brutal battle between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich has diminished the Republican effort to take back the White House in 2012.

"The American public does not want to see two or three candidates get into a mud-wrestling match where everybody walks away dirty and not in a position to represent our party proudly," Santorum said to a small but crowded room of fewer than 100 people. "We're going to have differences on the issues ... but what we saw in the last few weeks in the state of Florida is not something that's going to help us win this election. Let's focus on the real issue, which is defeating Barack Obama."

He predicted, against current evidence, that he will emerge as the strong conservative in a race where voters, he said, are still looking for the "anti-Romney" candidate.

"In Florida, Newt Gingrich had his opportunity," Santorum said. "He came out of the state of South Carolina with a big win and a lot of money, and he said 'I'm going to be the conservative alternative. I'm going to be the anti-Mitt.' And it didn't work. He became the issue. We can't allow our nominee to become the issue in the campaign."

Santorum plans to spend Wednesday campaigning in Colorado, where he spent part of Tuesday. In the morning, he will deliver what he's billing as a hard-hitting speech on "Obamacare" and "Romneycare," the derisive phrases used to describe the healthcare reform packages enacted by President Obama and Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts.

Santorum has argued repeatedly that Obama's healthcare reform is such a grievous impingement on the freedom of the American people that it will be the defining election issue in November. If Romney becomes the GOP nominee, he has argued, the issue will be off the table, since Obama used Romney's plan as a model for the federal healthcare bill.

"We need a candidate who can get up on the issue of healthcare and draw a clear contrast with President Obama," Santorum said.

Herman Saitz, 77, a retired Las Vegas attorney, said he expected Santorum to fare poorly in Florida because he was so drastically outspent by Romney and Gingrich. But Saitz hasn't given up hope. "Rick is in it for the long haul," he said. "Romney will probably win here in Nevada, but this young man has another level to him. He doesn't have a lot of baggage."

Audrey Dal Soglio, 36, who has been fruitlessly looking for work in the insurance or real estate fields, said she's given up on the idea of finding a job. But it's not Santorum's jobs plan that attracted her to the former Pennsylvania senator. It's his temperament and his seeming to stay above the fray while Gingrich and Romney have been duking it out.

"He seems very spiritual," Dal Soglio said. "He's passionate. And I respect the fact that he's kept quiet."

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