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Santorum Tells Ohioans He Understands Them Santorum Tells Ohioans He Understands Them

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The Trail: 2012 Presidential News from the Field

CAMPAIGN 2012

Santorum Tells Ohioans He Understands Them

Candidate hopes attacks over individual mandate support can blunt Mitt Romney’s rise.

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Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum visits with supporters during a campaign rally in Blue Ash, Ohio.(Eric Gay/AP)

CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio – As he campaigned in Ohio on the final day before the state’s Republican primary, Rick Santorum on Monday painted a picture of small-town America where manufacturers would revitalize destitute towns along the Rust Belt and natural gas and oil would flow freely to catapult America to a position of energy dominance.

Santorum has sought to portray himself as a man who understands Ohio, playing up his Western Pennsylvania roots, declaring a kinship between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, and even joking that he used to cross the border into Ohio to buy beer when their drinking age was 18 – younger than 21 in his home state.

 

The cheering crowd of several hundred – and dozens more huddling in the cold outside – seemed to welcome him with open arms.

And in a last-ditch attempt to discredit his rivals, he threw everything but the kitchen sink at Mitt Romney and President Obama as he made his closing argument to voters across Ohio before they begin voting on Tuesday.

He went after the president for the health care law, for the regulations his administration has passed, for refusing to approve the Keystone XL pipeline or permit more drilling on domestic lands, for being soft on Iran and too hard on Israel, and for fundamentally trying to change America. During a rally in the Columbus suburb of Westerville earlier in the day, he chided the president to “man up, take the responsibility, and quit blaming everybody else,” for problems in his presidency.

 

But even as he reminded Ohio voters of their importance to the electoral process, Santorum sought to downplay the state’s importance to his own campaign.

“You’re used to the pressure being on. You’re used to going out and having to work extra hard for the candidates because so much is always at stake in Ohio. It’s always the make-or-break,” he told the Westerville crowd of about 200. “And I would make the argument that while it may not be make-or-break, it's going to be a huge, huge deal.”

He has reminded voters that Romney outspent him 12-to-1 in the state on ads. “We have been hammered here,” he said.

The attacks seem to have worked. Santorum has seen a lead in the state’s polls over Romney evaporate in the last week, and in some surveys have even put Romney ahead. A Quinnipiac University poll, for instance, had Santorum leading Romney 36 percent to 29 percent on Feb. 27, but another poll released on Monday showed Romney taking the lead by three points in a 34 percent to 31 percent contest. Their pollsters have rated the race too close to call.

 

The former Pennsylvania senator has sought to blunt Romney’s momentum in the state in recent days, reminding voters at every stop of the health care plan his rival passed in Massachusetts and accusing him of being dishonest about his past support for an individual mandate. Handing him the nomination, Santorum argues, would be tantamount to the Republicans giving up the biggest rallying cry they have against Obama.

“He won’t be able to ignore answering the questions [about his support for an individual mandate] in the fall and as a result he will be the weakest candidate we can put forward on the most important issue,” he said.

A secondary obstacle to victory is Newt Gingrich, and Santorum has hinted in recent days that the former House speaker’s presence in the race will hand a victory to Romney. Still, he has stopped short of calling on Gingrich to end his candidacy.

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“I’m not asking anybody to get out of the race, I’m just observing a fact which is, if you look at all of the polling data that comes out of these elections, the vast majority of Speaker Gingrich’s votes would go to us,” Santorum said on Sean Hannity’s radio show Monday.

"If you look at Super Tuesday states, there’s 10 of them. We’re running first or second, with the exception of Georgia, in just about every one of those states. We’re ahead ... of Gov. Romney in some and behind in some, of Gov. Romney, but if you put the Gingrich-Santorum votes together, Gov. Romney would be trailing in every single state with the exception of Massachusetts. That tells you something about where this race is.”

But even as he spoke through what sounded like a bad head cold, Santorum seemed determined not to let the obstacles stop him.

“It’s gut-check time. Who wants it most? What do you say?” he asked.

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