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Rick Santorum working on final push prior to Illinois primary

March 19, 2012|By Alana Semuels
  • Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks during a rally in Rockford, Ill.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks during a rally… (Charlie Riedel / Associated…)

Reporting from Rockford, Ill. — This city has been named among America’s fattest, most miserable and most dangerous in the course of the last year, and Rick Santorum started his last day of primary campaigning in Illinois pledging to make things better. The Republican presidential candidate said Monday he could improve the country by uniting it, and then proceeded to attack his main GOP opponent as "uniquely disqualified" to beat President Obama.
 
In a full day that is scheduled to include 19 TV, radio and public appearances in an effort to capture a primary that seems to be slipping away, Santorum stayed close to his main talking points, which include repealing the president’s healthcare law, getting more aggressive on Iran and focusing more closely on the Constitution, a promise that got especially loud applause from the audience in the Venetian Club, an Italian American meeting hall here. Santorum also got in a few digs at Obama, trying to appeal to the more conservative voters that live in relatively rural towns such as Rockford.
 
"This is a president who looks at America in the rearview mirror and sees something very different than what Ronald Reagan did," he said. "America is a great country because we were founded on the basic principles of God-given rights. Rights don’t come from the government. They come from God," he said.
 
Santorum has often said that he decided to enter the presidential race because of his disgust with the healthcare legislation championed by Obama. He has repeatedly criticized GOP rival Mitt Romney over passage of a similar healthcare measure when Romney was governor of Massachusetts, a criticism he repeated Monday.
 
"You can't have someone who advocated for what President Obama did take him on," he said. "There is no difference between the two."
 
The former Pennsylvania senator also attacked Romney’s job-creation record as governor, called him a "Wall Street financier” and accused him of increasing the size of government.
 
Santorum contrasted Romney's experience as head of private equity firm with his own time in business, including a failed attempt to start a tech company after leaving the Senate.
 
"Like most Americans, I've had my failures," he said. "I lost reelection. I had a business that we tried to get off the ground didn't succeed. But my experience is what made me a little different."
 
Santorum's attacks have gotten louder as polls show his chances of an Illinois upset slipping away. A poll by the American Research Group released Monday showed Romney's lead had grown to nearly 15 points.

Santorum was appearing on television and radio shows in Illinois and Missouri on Monday, and holding four public events in Illinois, the state where he graduated from high school.

It appeared the busy day was taking a toll on some organization efforts -– at the Venetian Club, he was introduced before he had arrived inside the venue, leading event organizers to stall uncomfortably for a few minutes until Santorum showed up.
 
That didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of people such as Penny Garbe, a 63-year-old Rockford grandmother. She said Santorum’s message of strong values appeals to her, and presents a solution to the problems in towns such as Rockford.
 
"When the family is a solid unit, that certainly improves the economy," she said.
 
A handful of protesters stood outside the hall holding up signs accusing Santorum of taking away women's rights.
 
"He's preying on our town," said Sarah Reed McNamara, a college student who was holding up a sign saying "Rick, I use birth control for cramps." "People think this is a bad place to live, so he wants to bring Illinois back to Bible-thumping values."
 
Her friend Maggie Slankard held a sign reading "Rockford doesn’t love you."
 
A Ron Paul supporter came out and joined McNamara and Slankard, holding up a brown sign with a hand-drawn picture of Paul on it.
 
"You guys aren't for Santorum?" he asked McNamara and her friend. "Good, I'll stand with you."

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Rick Santorum working on final push prior to Illinois primary

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