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Santorum: 'I Don’t Care What the Unemployment Rate’s Going to Be' Santorum: 'I Don’t Care What the Unemployment Rate’s Going to Be'

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The Trail: 2012 Presidential News from the Field / CAMPAIGN 2012

Santorum: 'I Don’t Care What the Unemployment Rate’s Going to Be'

Candidate suggests that freedom is a bigger issue in the election than the economy.

photo of Rebecca Kaplan
March 19, 2012

MOLINE, Ill. – Rick Santorum is coming under fire for saying that the unemployment rate and economic growth are secondary issues to that of freedom in his campaign, a statement that rival Mitt Romney's campaign quickly seized on as being tone-deaf to the plight of out-of-work Americans.

“We need a candidate who's going to be a fighter for freedom. Who’s going to get up and make that the central theme in this race because it is the central theme in this race," Santorum told a crowd of about 200 voters during a rally here on Monday. "I don't care what the unemployment rate's going to be. Doesn't matter to me. My campaign doesn't hinge on unemployment rates and growth rates. It's something more foundational that's going on."

The event had barely ended when Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul e-mailed reporters to offer up the statement as evidence of Santorum being an “economic lightweight,” a charge tahth Romney has been making in recent days. The former Massachusetts governor gave a speech in Chicago on Monday attacking President Obama's stewardship of the economy.

 

“Wow. Sen. Santorum may not care about the unemployment rate in this country or the nearly 24 million Americans struggling for work, but Mitt Romney does and is running to get people back to work," Saul said. "If anyone needed evidence that Rick Santorum is an economic lightweight, they needn’t look any further than his various statements today. We're not going to turn around this economy by replacing one former senator with zero job-creating experience with another senator with zero job-creating experience. He has proven it once again,” she wrote.

Romney himself, in a subsequent appearance at Bradley University, reaffirmed his concern for unemployment.

"One of the people who is running also for the Republican nomination today said that he doesn’t care about the unemployment rate; that does bother me," Romney said. "I do care about the unemployment rate. It does bother me. I want to get people back to work."

Santorum sought to clarify his comments to reporters after the event by saying that freedom supersedes the unemployment issue, and he tried to paint Romney’s economic plan as a nonconservative approach.

“Of course I care about the unemployment rate. I want the unemployment rate to go down, but I’m saying, my candidacy doesn’t hinge on whether the unemployment rate goes up and down,” he said. “Our candidacy’s about something that transcends that; its about freedom, its not about, you know, Governor Romney’s idea that he’s going to fix the economy which is something that, of course, we as Republicans don’t believe that presidents fix the economy; we believe that we try to do things to create an atmosphere for the economy to fix itself.”

And at a subsequent event in East Peoria, he sought to use the gaffe to demonstrate his authenticity.

"Now when you got out there and you don’t talk from a teleprompter, and you’re not, you know, reading notes that someone else gave you, occasionally you say some things --  you wish you had a, you know, a do-over," he said. "But you know what? I think it’s important that you get a sense of how real the candidate is, mistakes and all."

Sarah B. Boxer and Lindsey Boerma contributed

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