Santorum Debuts as Romney Surrogate in Pa.

Santorum Debuts as Romney Surrogate in Pa.

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - July 15, 2012

GREENSBURG, Pa. -- Former Sen. Rick Santorum was back on the stump in his home territory of western Pennsylvania over the weekend, but this time in a new role: Mitt Romney's attack dog.

At the opening of a Romney campaign office here Saturday, the erstwhile presidential candidate called the November election a "tipping point as to what kind of country we are going to be."

“The republic is at stake,” Santorum told a crowd gathered in the hot and cramped Victory Center, many of them wiping their brows. “One man is who we have to put our trust in to go out and fight that battle, and win that battle. And we must rally behind and do everything we possibly can to support Gov. Mitt Romney so he's the next president of the United States.”

It was a scene far removed from earlier moments of the GOP presidential campaign, when Santorum called his then-rival “the worst Republican in the country” to pit against the president on the issue of health care reform given Romney’s signing of an overhaul law in the state of Massachusetts. Indeed, after the Supreme Court upheld the national law’s individual mandate as a tax, the Romney campaign struggled to explain how the Massachusetts law requiring residents to buy health insurance was not a tax.

When asked by RCP on Saturday about his previous characterization of the presumptive nominee as unqualified to be president, Santorum replied, “I said on the issue of health care he would have trouble. And, you know, he has had a little trouble coming out of the gate on this issue. The bottom line is he is far better than Barack Obama on this issue. Far better.” Santorum said there “is going to be plenty of time to make the case on health care” and that Romney “has been very clear, just like I have, that that bill needs to be repealed.”

In recent days, Democrats have called upon Romney to release more than the two years of tax returns he already made public. When asked about that issue by a reporter, Santorum called it a “distraction.”

“It's pretty clear from the past that this issue has been vetted over and over,” he replied, though during the primary he himself asked Romney to release more than two years of returns. Santorum also noted that he does not question Romney’s years at the helm of the private equity firm Bain Capital, as former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich repeatedly did.

Romney did what venture capitalists and private equity companies do, Santorum said, which is to “invest money hopefully to make money for themselves and create opportunities in the private sector to create jobs and grow the economy. From everything I’ve seen, he was pretty successful at it.” Santorum then transitioned his comments to the president’s record: “But Barack Obama has not grown this economy. . . . He clearly has no understanding of how this economy works.”

Santorum seemed to enjoy the surrogate role. He accused the Obama of becoming “drunk with power,” expanding government programs “beyond any conceivable fashion,” and creating “a dependency culture” as well as “bullying the Supreme Court” into upholding the health care law.

Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it would consider granting state waivers on work requirements for welfare recipients as established under the welfare reform law signed by President Clinton. HHS said the waivers are designed to allow states to explore other ways to move recipients from welfare to employment. Romney and other national Republicans decried the announcement. "The success of bipartisan welfare reform, passed under President Clinton, has rested on the obligation of work,” Romney said in a statement. “The President's action is completely misdirected. Work is a dignified endeavor, and the linkage of work and welfare is essential to prevent welfare from becoming a way of life."

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Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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