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Santorum seizes on Romney's hesitation on Blunt amendment

March 01, 2012|By Paul West

Reporting from Chamblee, Ga. — Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum opened up a fresh line of criticism over Mitt Romney's conservative beliefs, accusing his GOP rival of lacking the gut instincts to take the conservative line on social questions like government insurance mandates for contraception.

Santorum delivered a blistering attack on Romney's stumble Wednesday when he told an Ohio interviewer that he opposed a Senate amendment to roll back the Obama administration policy. The amendment was defeated Thursday.

Romney had also said he was "not going there" into questions about contraception between a husband and wife. His aides later said he not understood the question.

But Santorum, seeking to keep alive a controversy likely to hurt Romney among the social conservatives that both men are trying to woo, said his opponent's answer had instead provided "insight into what's in the gut of Governor Romney."  Santorum said  Romney apparently slipped because he hadn't been properly briefed by his consultants.

Romney's "knee-jerk reaction was, ‘No. I can't be for that.'" Santorum said. "After his consultants talked to him and then he came back, ‘Oh,' he said, ‘I didn't understand the question.'  Well, maybe he did and maybe he didn't."

Then Santorum continued, his voice rising, "I tell you, if I was asked a question like that, my gut reaction would be, always, my gut reaction would be, you stand for the 1st Amendment! You stand for freedom of religion! You stand for the 1st Amendment rights!"

His attack drew loud applause from a sparse crowd of less than 200 at a hanger at DeKalb Peachtree Airport in the close-in northern suburbs of Atlanta.

Santorum is emphasizing social theme as he bids for support from evangelical Christians, home-schoolers and social conservatives in Tuesday's Georgia primary.  The former senator said voters should pay attention to the episode involving Romney and the amendment, sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri.

"A lot will tell you what kind of president you're going to be when you haven't been properly briefed by your consultants and you're asked what's really going on here," Santorum said. "Ladies and gentlemen, you want someone who, at their core, believes--and is willing to step up and fight, not put these issues on the back burner.  Conservative issues.  Not put them on the back burner and just focus on one or two things that may be popular, like cutting taxes.  I mean, look, I've never voted for a tax increase.  Don't believe in voting for tax increases, unlike Governor Romney who has. I don't vote for tax increases, but, let's be honest, running around and talking about cutting taxes is not the hardest political thing to do."

Before leaving Georgia for Washington state, which holds caucuses on Saturday, Santorum made a stop for lunch at a nearby Chick-fil-A.  The chain traces its roots to the Atlanta area in the 1940s.  All of its franchises are required to close on Sundays, a well-known, religious-based policy that is extremely rare in the fast-food industry. 

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