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Santorum casts himself as chief Romney alternative in caucuses

 

LAKEWOOD, CO -- Rick Santorum is fighting to portray himself as the top conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, a message he'll take to voters in a series of forthcoming caucuses.

At Colorado Christian University on Wednesday, the presidential hopeful said Newt Gingrich has had more success courting voters in early primary states because of an incorrect notion that the former House speaker is in a better position to challenge Mitt Romney. But, Santorum charged, Gingrich's inability to capitalize on a decisive South Carolina primary victory in Florida shows he does not have the support to challenge the former Massachusetts governor.

"In Florida, Newt Gingrich had his opportunity," Santorum said in Las Vegas on Tuesday as Sunshine State returns showed Gingrich finishing second.  "He came out of the state  of South Carolina, he came out with a big win and a lot of money,  and he said 'I'm going to be the conservative alternative. I'm going to be the anti-Mitt.' And it didn't work. He became the issue."

The former Pennsylvania senator is taking a renewed focus on Gingrich after losing to his rival in the two most recent primary contests. But Santorum faces a tough balancing act between steering clear of the personal attacks candidates have leveled against each other, while drawing contrasts with his GOP foes. One of Gingrich's chief liabilities among conservatives are the ethics charges leveled against him as speaker and his rocky marital history.

Newly-released television and radio ads take aim at Gingrich, in both cases questioning his conservative credentials. Still, Santorum claims to still be remaining above the fray by focusing on issues, not personal matters.

"What I talked about is policy, I didn't attack the speaker for working for a company or, you know, things that he did in his past in his life.
I went out and focused on the policy differences between Speaker Gingrich and me," he said. "I think that's fair game."

But it was just a day earlier when the GOP hopeful, working to remain relevant in the nominating contest, said Florida's results prove Republicans need to have a candidate without "personal baggage."

Now Santorum is tasked with convincing the electorate that he can effectively take on Romney, after losing to Gingrich by substantial margins. His focus now turns to Colorado, Nevada, and Minnesota -- caucus states where he has the opportunity to pick up delegates without having to win outright.

"If Newt's out of the race, all of his votes come to me," Santorum said. "They aren't voting for Newt not because he's the best candidate, it's because they think he can win."

And despite the tough path ahead, the candidate said he has no plans of quitting.

"This race is just beginning. Only four states have spoken. There are 46 others," he said.