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Rick Santorum focuses on Gingrich with time running out in S.C.

With attention turning toward Newt Gingrich as the conservative Republican with the best chance of catching front-runner Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum cranked up his assault on the former speaker of the House, questioning his steadiness and convictions.

“We’ve had good solid policy proposals as opposed to some of the irresponsible ones that Newt has thrown out there and irresponsible statements,” Santorum said in an early morning interview on Fox News. If voters choose the former speaker, he said, they may “wake up in the morning and look at the newspaper and say, “Oh, my gosh, he didn’t say that, did he?’”

Santorum’s criticisms come as Gingrich has pulled closer to Romney and farther from Santorum in state polls. Gingrich was also drawing notice for his forceful performance in this week’s debate, in which Romney hedged on releasing his taxes. Santorum’s broadsides also dove-tailed with a stepped-up attack from Romney’s campaign and supporters, suggesting Gingrich was “unreliable” when he was the leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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At his first campaign stop of the day at the flag-bedecked Beacon Drive-In in Spartanburg, Santorum accused Gingrich of “hubris and I might even go so far as to say the arrogance.” Gingrich, the architect of the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress, has said that the former Pennsylvania senator lacks the experience to run a national campaign.

“Let’s talk about who should be in this race, all right?” Santorum told about 150 people. “And here’s what I’ll say. Everybody who wants to be in this race should be in this race, and I’m not going to be someone who’s going to point my finger at someone and says I’m better than you, you should get out. That’s not how South Carolina is going to decide this race.”

Santorum noted that Gingrich has won election only in a conservative Georgia congressional district, while he won four elections in districts and a state dominated by Democrats.

Citing his roots in steel country Pennsylvania and his heritage as the grandson of a coal miner, Santorum said he was the candidate best able to appeal to Reagan Democrats in swing states. He also noted that Gingrich finished behind him in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

“Nobody else in this race has ever beaten a Democratic incumbent,” he said.

Santorum attacked Gingrich for his supporting the Wall Street bailout, a mandate to require individuals to have health insurance and the theory of global warming. In a barb that might be a little inside-Washington for upstate South Carolina, Santorum said, “The only person I ever sat on a couch with is my wife.” Gingrich once sat on a couch with former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to urge that the nation take action on climate change. Santorum may also have been seeking slyly to remind the conservative crowd of Gingrich’s infidelities.

Santorum, dressed in a gray sweater vest with a campaign logo, also tied Gingrich to Romney, who was a moderate Republican governor of Massachusetts. “When the winds are blowing, what we’ve seen is Romney and Gingrich – is that they, they put their sails up and go,” he said. “I tack against the wind. I stand up for the values that I know are true.”

Santorum also tried to play up his down-to-earth oratory against Gingrich’s ability to marshal facts and phrases in his crowd-pleasing speeches. “I don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to come up with some hare-brained idea every 20 minutes,” he said. “I’m going to be talking about solid, core convictions and the principles that made this country great. That’s what you can expect. I’m not going to be the flashiest guy that’s in the room.”

As he has for days, Santorum continued to point out that the count from the Iowa caucuses, where he finished eight votes behind Romney, is still not final. “It’s not decided, and we will hear soon, and it very well may change the complexion of this race,” he said.

He also touted his endorsement by an influential group of evangelical Christians. “They were looking for a strong conviction conservative across the board,” he said.

Malagni Mardis, a 41-year-old mother from Gaffney, came with her 11-year-old daughter, Abby, the two of them standing up and holding a tray with a basket of French fries. The Beacon, which boasts that it “stands for old-fashioned things … God, family, friends, children and a decent meal at a fair price,” is one of their favorite restaurants.

“I’m here for Rick Santorum and I’m here for the Duggars, both,” she said. Jim Bob Duggar and a half dozen of his 19 children appeared at the event. The family, which has its own reality show, has endorsed Santorum for his family values and is trailing after him in an enormous bus.

Mardis said she was a Santorum supporter “from the get-go” because he openly espouses his beliefs and she believes he will put Christian values back in the White House. “I want my daughter raised in a society where there are leaders not afraid to profess their faith,” she said.

Santorum ended his speech with a plea for help, urging supporters to at least put a sticker on their car bumper. “Heck,” he said, “it’ll only be there three days. It’ll peel off easily.”


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