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GOP debate: Santorum lures Romney into ‘super PAC’ trap

Sparring with rival Mitt Romney on the debate stage Tuesday night, former Sen. Rick Santorum forced Romney into disavowing attack ads run by a “super PAC” supporting his candidacy.

The exchange was the first in a series of hard-hitting, sustained attacks on Romney, the front-runner in the race.

“Gov. Romney’s super PAC has put an ad out there suggesting that I voted to allow felons to be able to vote from prison,” Santorum began. “I would ask Gov. Romney: Do you believe people who are felons, who’ve served their time, who’ve exhausted their parole and probation, should they be given the right to vote?”

PHOTOS: Republican presidential debate

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Romney attempted first to push back against the assertion that he had control over the ads, but was told to answer Santorum’s question first.

“We have plenty of time,” Romney said. “I’ll get there. I’ll do it in the order I want to do. I believe that … if they ever run an ad or say something that’s inaccurate, I hope they either take off the ad or make it correct.”

Santorum kept pressing.

“Do you believe that felons who have served their time, have gone through probation and parole ... should they be given the right to have a vote?” he asked. “This is Martin Luther King day. This is a huge deal in the African American community because they have very high rates of incarceration, disproportionately high rates, particularly the drug crimes in the African American community.”

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Romney tried to put an end to the discussion: “Yeah, I don’t believe people who’ve committed violent crimes should be allowed to vote again. That’s my view.”

Santorum was ready with an immediate retort.

“That’s very interesting that you say that, Gov. Romney, because in the state of Massachusetts, when you were governor, the law was that not only could violent felons vote after they had exhausted their sentences, but they could vote while they were on probation and parole,” he said. “If in fact you felt so passionately about this, that you are now going to go out and have somebody criticize me for restoring voting rights to people who have exhausted their sentence and served their time and paid their debt to society, then why didn’t you try to change that when you were governor of Massachusetts?”

Romney replied that as governor, he had to contend with a legislature that was 85% Democratic. Then he doubled down on his criticism of super PACS.

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“I did not have a super PAC run ads against you,” he said. “As you know, that’s something which is completely out of the control of the candidates. One of the things I decry in the current financial system ... is that we have these voting requirements that put these super PACs in power that say things we disagree with ... . I hope it ends. I hope it ends.”

Santorum wasn’t satisfied.

“If I had something in a super PAC that was supporting me that was inaccurate, I would go out and say stop it, that you’re representing me and … stop it,” he said.


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