Rick Santorum pressed his case today that the Republican Party would hurt its chances in November’s election if it nominates Mitt Romney because he has taken too many positions similar to those of President Barack Obama.
“We have an opportunity in this race to make this about Barack Obama and his failed policies,” Santorum told a business group in Livonia, Mich. “We need a candidate who can make that point, who can make it on the big issues of the day — energy, jobs and manufacturing, limited government — important issues like healthcare and its effect on the economy.”
On the eve of primaries in Michigan and Arizona, Santorum charged that Romney’s support of healthcare legislation as governor of Massachusetts would damage the party’s standing because it has similarities to the federal measure Obama pushed through Congress.
“Why would we give this issue away?” he asked. “It is the biggest issue in this race. It’s about taking control of your economic lives.”
A Romney loss in Michigan, where he spent his boyhood and where his father, George Romney, served as a popular three-term governor and was an automobile company chief executive, would undermine his claims to front-runner status in the race for the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nomination.
Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, called Romney “uniquely unqualified” to make the case against Obama.
“I don’t believe in government telling us what to do,” he said. “We need someone like that running against Barack Obama, not someone who did Obamacare-lite.”
Romney sought to change the subject of the campaign debate following several days where Santorum highlighted social issues such as abortion, religion and birth control.
“It’s time for him to really focus on the economy,” Romney said today in Rockford, Mich.
Asked about that comment following his Livonia appearance, Santorum responded: “Tell him to watch my speech.”
Polls show a close race in Michigan, while Romney leads in Arizona.
Super Tuesday Momentum
This week’s primaries will determine who has the momentum heading into so-called Super Tuesday on March 6, when 10 states will hold contests. More than 400 of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination will be at stake then.
One unknown is how many Democrats and independent voters will cast ballots in Michigan’s open primary. Some members of the United Auto Workers have said they plan to vote for Santorum or Rep. Ron Paul of Texas in a bid to extend the primary fight and prevent Romney from winning the state.
Romney, a former private equity executive, has made economic issues his campaign’s central focus and has tried to use that experience to distinguish himself from his Republican rivals. Santorum’s focus on religion has diverted attention away from Romney’s economic message, forcing him to tackle issues he tends to be less comfortable discussing.
Romney, 64, today contrasted his business experience with Santorum’s background in Congress, casting his rival as a creature of Washington with little private-sector experience.
“I’ve spent 25 years in business. I understand why jobs go and why they come,” Romney said. “Senator Santorum is a nice guy, but he’s never had a job in the private sector.”
Santorum continued to talk about the importance of religion in U.S. society.
“We hear so much about separation of church and state,” he said. “I’m for separation of church and state. The state has no business” telling churches what to do.
Santorum, 53, told reporters after his speech that he is pleased with his place in the race.
“We’re doing remarkably well for being as outspent as we are,” he said. “We feel very, very good about the reaction we’re getting as we travel around the state of Michigan, getting good crowds and obviously people are reacting well to our message.”
Spending in Michigan on television commercials by Romney’s campaign and a political action committee backing him has outpaced expenditures on behalf of Santorum by a ratio of about 3-to-2, according to data from New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, a company that tracks advertising.
The Romney campaign and Restore Our Future spent $2.29 million to air ads 4,341 times on Michigan broadcast television stations through Feb. 23, CMAG reported. Santorum and the Red White and Blue Fund, a PAC supporting him, spent $1.49 million to air ads 3,721 times.
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