DeWine backs Santorum, withdraws Romney endorsement

SHELBY TOWNSHIP, MI - FEBRUARY 17: Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) speaks at a Michigan Faith and Freedom Coalition rally February 17, 2012 in Shelby Township, Michigan. Santorum is campaigning in Michigan ahead of the February 28 state primary. Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Ohio's attorney general withdrew his support from Mitt Romney on Friday, announcing that he will back Rick Santorum in the Republican presidential primary.

"I firmly believed he was the best candidate - had the best chance to beat Barack Obama," Mike DeWine said. DeWine endorsed Romney in October, but said Friday he had changed his mind.

"I was wrong," DeWine said. "Today I am withdrawing as a Romney delegate."

The attorney general indicated that he was turned off by Romney's negative campaigning, which includes an onslaught of television and radio ads.

"You have to do more than tear down your opponent," DeWine said. "You have to give the American people a reason, a reason to vote for you."

"Sadly, Governor Romney has not," DeWine said.

DeWine is a former U.S. senator who knows Santorum from their time in Congress. Both men lost their re-election bids in 2006.

In front of the Ohio state house Friday, DeWine said he's had "sleepless nights" about his decision but decided that he "could not continue be on record endorsing governor Romney when I knew in my heart Rick Santorum was the best candidate."

DeWine said that back in October, he though Santorum had no chance of overcoming Romney's organizational and financial strength. Now that Santorum is neck-and-neck with Romney in the primary race, he said he was ready to back Santorum.

Santorum's response to the endorsement: "Wow." He predicted DeWine's support would lead to a win in the delegate-rich rust-belt state set to hold its nominating contest on March 6, along with 9 other states.

"He [will] lead a spark in Ohio that I think is going to deliver us a great victory on "Super Tuesday," Santorum said.

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    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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