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Mitt Romney Campaign Attacks Rick Santorum's Record Ahead Of Primaries

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WASHINGTON -- Rick Santorum is suddenly getting a lot of attention from Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, a sign that they expect him to do well on Tuesday in the Minnesota and Colorado primary caucuses.

The Romney campaign blasted out an attack Sunday evening on the former Pennsylvania senator's earmark record in Congress, then followed that up Monday morning by sending out a quote from former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has endorsed Romney.

"Rick Santorum is a nice guy, but he is simply not ready to be President," Pawlenty said. "Plus, he wants Minnesota conservatives to believe he's as conservative as they are, but he's not."

"As a U.S. Senator, he was a leading earmarker and pork-barrel spender," said Pawlenty, who planned to expand on his criticisms with reporters on a conference call. "He described himself as 'very proud' of the billions of dollars in pork-barrel projects he championed, and promised to defend the wasteful spending."

Pawlenty said on the call that Santorum has "held himself out as the perfect or near perfect conservative, when in fact that's not his record."

The Romney campaign highlighted Santorum's work to procure $500,000 in taxpayer funds for a polar bear exhibit at the Pittsburgh Zoo, as well as money for parking garages and "passenger comfort stations" at transit centers.

The Romney campaign also went after Santorum for his criticisms of Romney's health care law, which was passed during his time as governor of Massachusetts. The campaign relied mostly on a FactCheck.org document that found Santorum's claims to be "mostly false."

Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley fired back at the Romney campaign Monday: "Romney never touts his own record -- because it's abysmal."

"In the Republican Party we have a name for someone who supports government healthcare mandates, big bank bailouts, and radical cap and trade initiatives -- we call them Democrats," Gidley said. "Rick Santorum is the only conservative candidate who is positioned to defeat Obama because he can credibly and effectively attack the President."

"Mitt Romney can't attack Obama on any of those major issues because Gov. Romney agrees with Obama on all of them –- and his attack and smear campaign is his way of avoiding his liberal record."

Santorum won the Iowa caucuses after the Hawkeye State originally reported the win for Romney Jan. 3, but then his campaign was knocked off track in New Hampshire, where Santorum came in fifth. He came in third in South Carolina behind Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), third in Florida, and then fourth on Saturday in the Nevada caucuses.

But Santorum is expected to do well in Minnesota and Colorado on Tuesday, as well as in a symbolic vote in Missouri that will have no impact on awarding delegates to the candidates. A Public Policy Polling survey in Minnesota released on Sunday showed Santorum leading Romney 29 percent to 27 percent, with Gingrich at 22 percent.

In Colorado, Romney was comfortably ahead in a PPP poll, with 40 percent of the vote to Santorum's 26 percent. But Santorum was beating Gingrich, who was the preferred choice of only 18 percent of voters.

Pawlenty downplayed expectations for the Minnesota caucuses, saying that only a small number of registered voters historically take part, and that all the top candidates will be "bunched together toward the top of the pack."

"Mitt will be competitive but it's hard to tell who's going to be the person on top of the pack," Pawlenty said.

In Missouri, Gingrich failed to qualify for the non-binding primary ballot in time, and has said it doesn't matter because the state will hold caucuses on March 17 that will have an impact on delegates. So even though the contest on Tuesday has little substantive value, Santorum is talking up its importance.

"On Tuesday, I think we are going to do very well in Missouri. It's going to be interesting because it's a head-to-head between Gov. Romney and myself," Santorum said Sunday. "Speaker Gingrich is not on the ballot. Ron Paul is. We'll wait and see whether the idea that the one conservative who can actually go up against Mitt Romney head to head and win."

If Santorum wins Minnesota and beats Gingrich in Colorado, he'll have some ammunition to argue that he is the GOP's preferred anti-Romney candidate.

The Romney campaign's attacks on him are clearly preemptive efforts to weaken Santorum in the event that happens.

Santorum's campaign continued the war of words in the afternoon, sending out a vigorous defense of the former senator's record on earmarks and mocking Romney's attempt to criticize Santorum.

"Does the forefather of Obamacare, advocate of the Wall Street Bailouts, and proponent of job-killing climate change regulations really want to try and lecture anyone about earmarks?" Gidley said.

Gidley said that Santorum was "doing his constitutionally obligated job on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania" when he obtained earmarks, and noted that the senator supported a moratorium on the practice.

And the Santorum campaign said that Romney got $342 million in federal funds for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, which he oversaw. Of that money, they noted that $55,000 went to "the Department of Justice to assess and resolve racial tension in Salt Lake City."

They also quoted Romney from a 2006 NPR story in which he requested federal funds to help pay for a massive transportation project in Boston, known as "The Big Dig."

Romney said at the time, "I'd be embarrassed if I didn't always ask for federal money whenever I get the chance."

UPDATE: This article has been updated to reflect the Santorum campaign's response and a call with former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has endorsed Romney.

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