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'Snob' comment about Obama and college hounds Rick Santorum

March 03, 2012|By Paul West | Washington Bureau

Reporting from Atlanta — More than a week after a gaffe that damaged his presidential candidacy, Rick Santorum was on the defensive again in a nationally televised forum Saturday for having called President Obama a "snob" when it comes to wanting Americans to attend college.

On a Fox News program, with former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee as host, Santorum was asked by an Ohio State University student to explain his attack on Obama for a statement the president apparently never made.

"Your comments about Obama being a snob for wanting everyone to have the chance to go to college didn't really sit well with my campus," said Ohio State senior Devin Largent.

Santorum, who told CNN on Friday that he had regretted using the word "snob," continued to argue that Obama said he wanted everyone to attend college. "It wasn't about having a chance to go to school," Santorum replied.

"His quote was, repeated often in the media, was that everybody should go to college. You see, there's something different than saying people should have the opportunity to go to college. That's fine. All my political career I've supported [that]. In fact, we do need a lot of people to go to college and get the education, and in some cases the training, that's necessary. But the idea that everybody should go to college -- again, it was this attitude: that we know better what's best for you."

Actually, there doesn't seem to be any clear evidence that Obama ever made the statement Santorum cites. At a Feb. 25 tea party rally in Troy, Mich., Santorum said that Obama "once said he wants everybody in America to go to college." The PolitiFact website has rated Santorum's claim false, after searching a database of Obama's remarks (and failing to get a response from the Santorum campaign to back up his claim).

Santorum, along with Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, appeared on the Huckabee show, taking questions from a Fox correspondent, a former Bush administration Cabinet member, a small-business owner from St. Louis and three Ohio residents.

Questions were confined to issues of jobs and the economy, and the candidates largely used the occasion to repeat their positions and deliver extended excerpts of their stump speeches.

The GOP candidates have decided they don't want to participate in any more televised debates -- those unscripted, high-stakes and heavily watched events that have played a big part in shaping the Republican presidential race.

However, all of them except Rep. Ron Paul, who has opted out of previous Huckabee forums, bent their schedules on Saturday to appear on Huckabee's show. Like the earlier programs, the candidates were questioned separately.

At a mid-January Huckabee forum in Charleston, S.C., Gingrich was booed when he criticized Romney's business record. Under Huckabee's ground rules, candidates aren't supposed to mention or criticize their Republican rivals (President Obama and the Democrats are fair game).

There wasn't even a studio audience this time. Instead, the eerie backdrop for the show, taped earlier in the day, was an abandoned DHL U.S. Express shipping company warehouse in Wilmington, Ohio, which closed in 2009 with a loss of thousands of jobs.

At one point, Gingrich was confronted by one of the Ohio residents, former DHL shuttle driver Michael O'Machearley, when the former House speaker repeated his standard line that those who receive unemployment benefits are basically getting money for doing nothing.

"With all due respect, that's not entirely accurate," O'Machearley said. To continue receiving jobless benefits, "you have to look for a job. you have to document that, which takes a lot of money and fuel and time," he said. "So, it's not money for doing nothing."

Gingrich agreed, then quickly went on to say that those getting jobless aid would be better served if they were required to get job training at the same time.

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