Santorum: Obama, Romney share distrust of America

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum visits with supporters during a rally at the Battleship Memorial Park, March 9, 2012, in Mobile, Alabama. AP Photo/Eric Gay

(AP) TOPEKA, Kan. - Hoping to tap into deep distrust of Washington, Republican Rick Santorum suggested Friday that President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney share a top priority: to take away Americans' money and freedom so they can tell them how to live.

A day before Kansas Republicans weigh in on the party's presidential contest, Santorum looked to shore up support in this Midwestern state that seemed ready to give the former Pennsylvania senator yet another win and further challenge Romney's front-runner status. With sharp rhetoric, Santorum likened Romney to Obama and cast both as unacceptable for conservatives.

"We already have one president who doesn't tell the truth to the American people. We don't need another," Santorum said to cheers. "Gov. Romney reinvents himself for whatever the political occasion calls for."

Santorum has hammered Romney for a health care overhaul he signed into law as Massachusetts governor. Santorum's advisers see the issue as Romney's biggest weakness among conservatives. They make up the bulk of the Republican Party's nominating base but have so far split their votes between Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"The worst offender is Gov. Romney. He put the template for Obamacare in place in Massachusetts," Santorum said.

Massachusetts requires citizens to buy health insurance. That mandate is central to Democrats' national plan, and Santorum called it unconstitutional.

Campaigning in Alabama, Romney fired back, characterizing Santorum as coming from the Washington establishment he's worked to distance himself from and reminding the former Pennsylvania senator — and voters — about a delegate count that puts Romney much closer to the nomination.

Santorum disputes Romney's delegate count

"Washington insider Rick Santorum is lashing out at Mitt Romney because he can't accept the fact that it's nearly impossible for him to win the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.

Romney currently has 431 delegates committed to his nomination, while Santorum has 181 out of the 1,144 needed. Gingrich trails with 107 and Ron Paul has 46, according to Associated Press calculations.

Santorum's small-government message resonated with Allan Holthaus, a 63-year-old Topeka contractor and farmer, who said he views Santorum as the most honest GOP candidate and the one most likely to try to deliver on his campaign promises.

Greeting Santorum after the rally, he said: "You help us get the government off our backs, and we'll help you fix it, that's for sure."

Santorum was also hoping to muscle Gingrich out of the race in the coming weeks, if not after Tuesday's contests in Alabama and Mississippi. Gingrich's advisors had said the former House speaker must win both states to stay in the race. Santorum's advisers anticipate Gingrich's conservative supporters would turn to Santorum and perhaps derail Romney's better-organized, better-funded political organization.

"We feel very confident that we can win Kansas on Saturday and come into Alabama and Mississippi and this race should come down to two people," Santorum told reporters.

And as the race turned South, the Santorum campaign on Friday hammered Gingrich on immigration, an issue likely to play prominently among Southern conservatives. Santorum turned to a key supporter and immigration hawk, former Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., to criticize Gingrich for supporting legislation that would, among other things, allow some children of illegal immigrants to become citizens.

"This is not just an immigration issue but a national security issue — and Newt Gingrich fails our nation on both counts," Tancredo said, charging that Gingrich would "adopt the policies of the left."

Gingrich told The Associated Press at a campaign stop in Mississippi that win or lose on Tuesday, he's staying in the race through to the Republican National Convention scheduled for August in Tampa, Fla.

"We'll clearly do well enough to move on, and I think there's a fair chance we'll win. But I just want to set this to rest once and for all: We're going to Tampa."

Even before he arrived in Kansas, a state his rivals largely overlooked, Santorum signaled strength here.

"Since Romney and Gingrich have decided not to campaign in Kansas, we feel pretty confident that we're going to do well," Santorum told reporters before leaving Alabama.

Despite his anti-Washington message, Santorum faced grumbling from tea party activists for skipping their big rally in the state's largest city. They spent $25,000 to rent the Century II arena in downtown Wichita and expected 1,000 to 3,000 people to attend.

"It seems like it is counterproductive to show up for an event that is going to have 300 people in an airplane hangar instead (of) 3,000 people in a nice setting where you can actually contact and really maybe sway somebody," said Craig Gabel, the president of Kansas For Liberty, which organized the Wichita event.

Paul, the congressman from Texas, was the only presidential candidate participating in the tea party event.

Santorum appeared not to know the timing of the tea party event and said he had to get to a speech Friday evening in Houston, a commitment he said was made months ago.

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