Republican presidential primary hopeful Rick Santorum said rival Mitt Romney’s promotion of tax proposals that limit deductions of top income earners is echoing the message of Occupy Wall Street protesters.
“We have a Republican running for president who’s campaigning as an Occupy Wall Street adherent,” Santorum said on Saturday, referring to protesters who have camped in New York, Washington and elsewhere and argue that the top 1 percent of income earners should pay more in taxes.
The former Pennsylvania senator’s comments came before two primaries this week in Michigan and Arizona that may reshape the race. Both men received friendly welcomes at a forum in Troy, Michigan, sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, an organization aligned with the tea party, a grass-roots movement that opposes new federal government taxes.
Romney highlighted Santorum’s support for former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican who switched to the Democratic Party in 2009.
“He supported the pro-choice candidate, Arlen Specter,” Romney said. “This taking one for the team — that’s business as usual in Washington. We have to have principled, conservative leadership and I have demonstrated that through my life and demonstrated it as a governor.”
Santorum, 53, told about 150 people in St. Clair Shores that Romney “doesn’t understand how America works.”
Romney, 64, ran for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts as a liberal, for governor in the same state as a moderate and now as a conservative for president, Santorum said.
“This is an issue of trust,” he said. “If you can’t trust him to campaign on what he did, imagine what he’s going to do when he’s in the general election.”
Santorum called U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, another presidential candidate campaigning in Michigan this weekend, the “wing-man” for Romney and suggested that the two were coordinating attacks against him in the Feb. 22 Arizona debate.
At a stop in Flint, Romney took a swipe at Santorum over something he said during the debate in Arizona.
“Senator Santorum said something that I think jarred a lot of people,” Romney told a crowd of several hundred gathered in the recreation center of Kettering University. “He had mentioned that he voted for something that he didn’t agree with and he said he did it because now and then you have to take one for the team in Washington.”
Romney added: “And I thought, ‘No, it’s about time we have someone go to Washington that takes one for the American people, not the partisan team.’”
Santorum, in Troy, said Romney supported government bailouts for Wall Street banks while opposing them for automakers, as he presented himself as a more consistent politician.
“What you see is what you get, as opposed to, well, what you see today may be something different than what you get tomorrow,” he said. “I will be the strong, consistent conservative.”
Polls show a close race between the two in Michigan, while Romney leads in Arizona, which will also hold a Feb. 28 primary. A Romney loss in Michigan, where he spent his boyhood and where his father, George Romney, served as governor and an automobile company chief executive, would be a blow to his candidacy.
The two contests will help determine who has the momentum heading into so-called Super Tuesday on March 6, when 11 states will hold primaries. More than 400 of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination will be at stake.
In Troy, Romney used Santorum’s own words against him, as he pointed to how the former Pennsylvania senator endorsed his 2008 presidential campaign and called him the “clear conservative” candidate in the race.
“He’s right,” Romney said. “I’m the conservative candidate and what we need in the White House is principled, conservative leadership.”
Romney also criticized Santorum for votes he cast that sent federal funding to Planned Parenthood and funded a family planning program for low-income women, as well as his support for parochial projects attached to congressional spending bills.
“He was opposed to Planned Parenthood funding and Title X funding, but he voted for it,” he said. “He stood and described how he favors earmarks.”
Romney spoke in Lansing on government bailouts for General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC, a topic that’s especially sensitive in the state that is home to both. He said the federal rescue is an example of “crony capitalism” that overly benefited the United Autoworkers Union. He linked that to the Obama administration’s federal loans to failed solar panel manufacturer Solyndra LLC and electric carmaker Fisker Automotive Inc.
“The right course for America is not to have a president to take your money to give it to his friends, but instead to let the free market choose those that have the greatest prospect for success,” Romney said in Lansing.
Santorum mocked Obama during his appearance in Troy.
“President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob,” he said to cheers and applause.
Obama “wants to remake you in his image,” he said. “I want to create jobs so people can remake their children in their image not his.”
Later Saturday, Santorum spoke in a mostly full church auditorium that sat 3,200 as part of a tea party forum in Tennessee, a Super Tuesday state. He said in Chattanooga that the party needs to pick someone who will provide a stark contrast with Obama, something he said Romney wouldn’t do.
Santorum said Romney’s proposed tax plan, including limiting charitable deductions for wealthy Americans, was “exactly the proposal that Barack Obama put forward.” Santorum accused both Romney and Obama of robbing churches, nonprofit groups, schools and hospitals of a substantial source of income.
“Both of them now want to take the incentive to give to the organizations that allow these community institutions to survive,” he said.
In California, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich campaigned ahead of that state’s June 5 primary.
“If you would rather have a paycheck instead of food stamps, you want to be with us,” he said at the California State Republican Party Convention outside San Francisco.
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