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Rick Santorum On Earmarks: It's 'A Compliment To Be Attacked'

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Rick Santorum speaks in Marshalltown, Iowa, on Friday
Rick Santorum speaks in Marshalltown, Iowa, on Friday

MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa -- Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is on the receiving end of attacks this week from fellow candidate Rick Perry, for being what Perry calls a "prolific earmarker."

But Santorum seemed relatively unfazed by the criticism on Friday -- even hinting it could be a positive.

"It's always a compliment to be attacked," he told The Huffington Post at an appearance in Ames, Iowa, smiling when asked whether he thinks Perry was responding to Santorum's high poll numbers.

Perry added a dig against Santorum to his stump speech this week, calling his fellow candidate a "prolific earmarker" and implying he is not a strong fiscal conservative. Santorum pushed for earmarks for his home state of Pennsylvania while he served in Congress, a fact he readily admits.

But he clearly has prepared what he sees as a strong defense.

At an appearance in a Marshalltown, Iowa, restaurant, Santorum quickly launched into an explanation of his earmarking years in response to a question by an Iowa voter.

His six-minute answer rather explicitly attributed the earmark question to the rise in his poll numbers, after two recent surveys this week showed major gains for the candidate.

"One of my adversaries noticed my poll numbers going up, so they decided to start leveling attacks," Santorum said. "In the Constitution it says who has the power to appropriate funds: Congress does. So we appropriate funds."

Earmarks were not always a problem, he said, adding that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), "the person who was the big ender of earmarks ... would tell you that the first six years of his term, he earmarked too." But Santorum said he would not support them in the future, despite the argument that earmarks prevent the president from controlling all spending.

"I admit it, I once was an earmarker. And I apologize," he said.

His eldest daughter, Elizabeth Santorum, said her father doesn't mind the attacks from Perry because they aren't personal. She said there's a camaraderie between her family and Perry's and a mutual respect "because we're all on the same side."

"Of course, the primary season is about seeing the differences between the candidates, because there are differences," she told The Huffington Post in Ames. "It's okay, and I think all of us are all right with that, as long as it's about the issues."

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