Santorum makes his case in Iowa, apologizes for past "tone"

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum talks on the phone after a campaign stop Dec. 30, 2011, in Ames, Iowa. AP Photo

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum talks on the phone after a campaign stop Dec. 30, 2011, in Ames, Iowa.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum
AP Photo

Rick Santorum, newly christened by the polls as a serious candidate in Iowa, is beginning to make the case for why he is a better choice than front-runner Mitt Romney, describing the former Massachusetts governor as vulnerable on important issues like health care and the environment. The former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania is also softening his rhetoric on cultural issues, which could help him with the more moderate GOP voters in the second contest coming up, the New Hampshire primary.

In an interview on Monday with conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham, Santorum said he regrets his harsh tone at points in his long quest to break out of the GOP pack in Iowa. "People say, 'Oh, you're a hater.' I don't hate anybody," Santorum said. "Have there been times I've been less than respectful? Unfortunately, yes. We all make mistakes and I've apologized for that in the past and some of the tone -- and it's been more in the tone than anything else. But look, I don't apologize for my beliefs. I don't apologize for standing up for the institution of marriage."

He said he is a better choice for Republicans than Romney because of Romney's "vulnerabilities" on key domestic issues. "Health care obviously is a big deal," Santorum said, referring to Romney's often-cited advocacy of a health insurance plan for Massachusetts similar to the one later embraced by President Obama. He also noted Romney's past support for cap-and-trade legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions and for the 2008 bailout of the financial industry.

"He sort of bought into the whole man-made global warming thing, I never did," Santorum said, a reference to a widely held belief among Republicans that there is insufficient science to support claims of human causes of climate change. "I never accepted it. Maybe it was the fact that I was the grandson of a coal miner that had something to do with it. I know the games the environmental movement plays. He knows them too. He brought in, I didn't," Santorum said.

He called the Wall Street bailout "another big difference" with Romney and said he was outspoken in his opposition to the George W. Bush-era plan to stop major banks and investment houses from failing.

During lighter moments in the interview, the 53-year-old Santorum confessed that he started wearing sweater vests on the campaign trail to make himself look older after a potential voter inquired whether he was old enough to be president. And, after his frequent boasts that he spent more time in Iowa than any other Republican candidate in the race, Santorum was stumped when Ingraham asked him to name the Iowa state bird. "Oh man," Santorum groaned. "The Eastern Goldfinch," Ingraham added helpfully.

  • Naureen Khan On Twitter»

    Naureen Khan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.

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