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Rick Santorum Making Mitt Romney-Like Gaffes On The Trail

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MOLINE, Ill. -- When Mitt Romney said he liked to fire people, he was talking about having a choice as a consumer between health insurers. But boy did it come out wrong.

On Monday, Rick Santorum had two similar moments while campaigning in Illinois. At his first event of the day in Rockford, Santorum said that "the issue in this race is not the economy."

Santorum was trying to argue that health care is the bigger issue because the government is taking over too much of the economy, and that is the larger reason why the economy is struggling. But the comment reinforced the image of Santorum as a politician more interested in social issues than in whether Americans without jobs can find work.

Then, Monday afternoon here in Moline, Santorum made an even more jarring comment, again when talking about health care.

"I don't care what the unemployment rate is going to be. It doesn't matter to me," Santorum said. "My campaign doesn't hinge on unemployment rates and growth rates. There's something more foundational that's going on here."

"You have one nominee that says he wants to run the economy. What kind of conservative says he wants the president to run the economy? What kind of conservative says, 'I'm the guy because of my economic experience, that can create jobs,'" Santorum said. "I don't know, we conservatives generally think that government doesn't create jobs."

Santorum, who spoke with reporters for about four minutes after his event on the third story of a downtown office building, was forced to clarify his comments.

"Of course I care about the unemployment rate. I want the unemployment rate to go down," Santorum told reporters. "But I'm saying, my candidacy doesn’t hinge on whether the unemployment rate goes up and down. Our candidacy is about something that transcends that."

"It's about freedom," he said. "It's not about, you know, Governor Romney's idea that he's gonna fix the economy, which is something of course, that Republicans don't believe that presidents fix the economy. We believe that we do things to try and create an atmosphere for the economy to fix itself."

The Romney campaign pounced on the comments.

"Wow. Sen. Santorum may not care about the unemployment rate in this country or the nearly 24 million Americans struggling for work, but Mitt Romney does and is running to get people back to work," wrote Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul, in an e-mail to reporters.

"If anyone needed evidence that Rick Santorum is an economic lightweight, they needn’t look any further than his various statements today," Saul said. "We're not going to turn around this economy by replacing one former senator with zero job-creating experience with another senator with zero job-creating experience. He has proven it once again."

Santorum also rejected comments made by a Baptist preacher in Baton Rouge, La., on Sunday, during a service he attended. The pastor said that those who don't like the idea of a Christian nation or who don't worship Jesus should "get out" of the country.

"If the question is do I agree with his statement that America should do that? No," Santorum told reporters Monday during his press appearance. "He was speaking for himself. He is obviously allowed to believe what he wants to believe but obviously I believe in the freedom of religion and all religions are welcome and should be and I think I've made that pretty clear throughout my campaign, that I believe very much in freedom of religion and people should be able to worship whoever they want to worship and bring their thoughts into the public square and have at it, and give them the opportunity to make their faith claims.

"That's what America is all about. As far as I'm concerned they should be here and they should make their arguments as best they can," he said.

"I didn't clap when he said that. I specifically didn't clap when he said that," Santorum continued. "I do remember him saying that and I wasn't quite sure if he was saying it for himself. I wasn't quite listening to everything to be quite honest with you. But I wasn't quite sure if he was speaking for himself or speaking quite generally, but I didn't clap when he said it because that's not how I think."

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