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Woman at gun range event tells Santorum to 'pretend it's Obama'

March 23, 2012|By John Hoeffel
(AP Photo/Ben Corda )

Reporting from West Monroe, La. — After he plugged a target with 14 rounds, Rick Santorum on Friday told a crowd of several hundred at an outdoor shooting range that Louisiana Republicans had a clear choice in Saturday’s primary between a trusted conservative and an untrustworthy Obama lookalike.

Santorum said that Mitt Romney shared the same views as President Obama on many of the most critical issues, including healthcare, global warming and Wall Street bailouts.

“There isn’t a dime’s worth of difference on some of the most important issues of the day. There is no contrast. There is no core. There is no trust among Republican voters as to what he believes in,” the former Pennsylvania senator said. “Here in Louisiana, you can speak out loudly that we don’t want just something just a little better than Barack Obama.”

Santorum alluded to comments he made Thursday that his opponents have exploited to suggest he is a disloyal Republican. Santorum was trying to play off a Romney advisor’s contention that the former Massachusetts governor could simply reset his views in the fall just like an Etch-A-Sketch can be erased. Santorum said, “We might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch-A-Sketch candidate for the future.”

On Friday, Santorum blamed the media for misinterpreting the remark and said what he meant was that is how voters would think when faced with a choice between Obama and Romney.

“When I said the other day that we need a real choice in this election, I’m for defeating Barack Obama, and I’m going to support whoever wins the Republican primary to beat Barack Obama, that’s the No. 1 issue,” he said. “But we’re not going to beat Barack Obama with someone who has, on the biggest issues of the day, the same positions as Barack Obama.”

In his speech in front of targets and a sign saying, “Freedom,” he lambasted Romney as a candidate who will say anything to get elected. “You don’t have to worry about me rehitting the reset button or taking an Etch-A-Sketch and eliminating all of my policy proposals,” he said.

Santorum also touched on another comment that hurt him. Just before the Illinois primary, he said he didn’t care about the unemployment rate when he was trying to make the point that his campaign was about bigger issues. He began his speech Friday by saying that the nation faced some big issues and the first one that he listed was the unemployment rate.

The former senator, who boasts that he is from the part of Pennsylvania where President Obama said people “cling to guns or religion,” began his last day campaigning in Louisiana by picking up a Colt 45 and emptying two magazines into a circular target, not a human-shaped one.

He thanked the range master, who complimented his shooting, for a chance “to get those juices flowing in the morning” and told the crowd, “What I was able to exercise was one of those fundamental freedoms that’s guaranteed in our Constitution, the right to bear arms.”

A woman in the audience suggested, “Pretend it’s Obama,” unnerving the Secret Service. Santorum later said he did not hear the comment.

“It’s absurd,” he said. “No we’re not pretending it’s anybody but shooting pistols. It’s a very terrible and horrible remark, and I’m glad I didn’t hear it .”

Frank Spooner, a 74-year-old who works in oil and gas exploration, said Newt Gingrich was his favorite candidate. They once attended candidate school together. Both lost their congressional races in 1976. Spooner did not run again.

“As far as accomplishing things for the Republican Party, he’s done more than any other guy,” he said, but he said Gingrich was not going anywhere. He came out to take Santorum’s measure. He said he didn’t think gun rights were an important issue in the election.

“I think the deficit is the issue. What are we going to do about that?” he said. Spooner has a gun he bought 45 years ago, he said, but added, “I couldn’t lay my hand on it.” But he was pulling for Santorum.

“For God’s sake, hit the target, Senator,” he said.

After Santorum finished talking and worked his way down a line of supporters, Spooner said he was disappointed Santorum spent so much time running Romney down. He said he still has not decided whom he will vote for Saturday when Louisiana Republicans decide how to allocate 20 delegates.

Santorum, however, is hoping for a strong win that would deny delegates to his competitors. He said he planned to go all the way to the convention and dismissed delegate counts that show him as much as 300 votes behind as flawed “Romney math.” “Go and look at the facts,” he told reporters.

“Louisiana can speak, change this race, launch this effort,” he told voters. “This race is far from over.”

john.hoeffel@latimes.com

Woman at gun range event tells Santorum to 'pretend it's Obama'

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