Former senator Rick Santorum aggressively attacked fellow US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney on multiple fronts, challenging the Republican front-runner’s values, consistency and even his economic policies — and launched the attack in the city of Romney’s birth.
Polls show Santorum has surged to a virtual tie with Romney and the former Pennsylvania senator on Thursday criticized his rival’s fiscal record, a perceived strength for Romney, who has touted his record as a successful venture capitalist.
Santorum slammed Romney’s stance on federal bailouts in particular, though both men opposed the government’s decision to rescue the US auto industry, centered in and around Detroit.
Romney has struggled to win over the party’s conservative base and has been attacked for his shifting positions on sensitive issues such as abortion and healthcare.
“Governor Romney supported the bailout of Wall Street and decided not to support the bailout of Detroit. My feeling was that the government should not be involved in bailouts, period,” Santorum said in an address to the Detroit Economic Club, just 37km from where Romney went to high school. “I think that’s a much more consistent position.”
Santorum is showing confidence in what should be safe territory for the longtime Republican front-runner — Romney not only grew up in Michigan, he is the son of a former governor. His family members also have been deeply involved in the state’s politics for decades.
The state hosts a presidential primary on Feb. 28 as Republicans battle to decide who will challenge US President Barack Obama in November.
Santorum came up with surprising wins in three states last week, forcing the former Massachusetts governor to focus on his latest Republican rival instead of Obama. A New York Times/CBS News poll released on Tuesday showed Santorum with 30 percent support among Republican voters, three points ahead of Romney, but within the survey’s margin of error.
Still, Romney is considered the Republican front-runner nationwide, with far more delegates from state-by-state voting that are necessary to claim the party’s nomination. The wealthy former governor of Massachusetts presents himself as the strongest challenger to take on Obama, and he has far more money and campaign organization than Santorum.
Romney picked up the support of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, who on Thursday called him “the man for the job.”
On Thursday, Romney ignored Santorum and the two other rivals for the Republican Party nomination — former speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich and Texas Representative Ron Paul.
Known for staunch socially conservative views, Santorum outlined an economic policy with a heavy emphasis on family values. He supports additional tax breaks to encourage charitable donations to churches, for example.
Santorum linked Obama and Romney, suggesting neither wants to lead the entire country.
“We have a president who says he supports occupiers who divide America between 99 and one. We have another candidate in this race who suggested that he didn’t care about the very poor,” Santorum said of Romney, referring to a comment Romney made. “How about a candidate who cares about 100 percent?”
Santorum spoke hours after he released tax returns showing his average income exceeded US$990,000 in recent years. He paid a considerably higher tax rate than Romney.