COLUMBIA, S.C. — Republican Rick Santorum complained bitterly Monday that a political action committee that supports presidential rival Mitt Romney is lying about his record. He called on Romney, the front-runner in the nomination race, to ask the group to edit or remove its advertisements from the air before Saturday's pivotal primary in South Carolina.
"He has a long track record of sending out his henchmen . . . to go out and not talk about himself but try to spread disinformation," Santorum said at a news conference Monday.
Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, is trying to emerge as the preferred conservative in the primary, where evangelical conservatives — for whom Santorum is making an aggressive pitch — make up an influential bloc.
A political action committee unaffiliated with Romney's campaign, but led by his former top political aides, is airing television advertisements in South Carolina attacking Santorum for, among several things, supporting voting rights for felons.
Santorum supports allowing felons who have completed their sentences, including parole, to apply to have their voting rights restored, as is the law in almost every state, including Massachusetts, where Romney was governor.
"Here we see the front-runner out there with the most liberal record in the field now out there trying to tear down other folks instead of talking about what he wants to do for this country," Santorum said.
The same super PAC airing the ads against Santorum in South Carolina also ran nearly $3 million in television ads in Iowa last month attacking former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Those ads, and ads by rival candidate Ron Paul attacking Gingrich, were seen as having shrunk Gingrich's support before the leadoff Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3.
Paul, a Texas congressman, is also running ads in South Carolina attacking Santorum's support for earmark spending, as is the pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future.
Santorum defended his support for earmark legislation while in the U.S. House and Senate, pointing to medical and military weapons projects he argued would otherwise have not received funding.
"The bottom line is what we've seen is absolute hypocrisy," Santorum said.
Santorum and a super PAC that supports him are airing ads in South Carolina promoting Santorum but not attacking any of his rivals.
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