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Santorum fights back ahead of latest primaries

 

GOLDEN, Colo. -- Rick Santorum is fighting back after a barrage of attacks from rival Mitt Romney ahead of three primary season contests that could give the former Pennsylvania senator his best day on the campaign trail since winning the Iowa caucus.

"Gov. Romney, on that vitally important issue of ObamaCare, is in fact the weakest candidate that we could put up," Santorum told reporters after a speech here at the Colorado School of Mines.  "Campaigns are about ideas, and on the ideas that matter most to the American people right now, he's on the wrong side."

Santorum traveled to Colorado after a morning speech where he delivered a blistering critique of the health care law Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts.  A policy, Santorum says, that forced individuals to become dependent on government and was the basis for the law President Obama signed in 2010.

For a candidate who has not finished better than third since winning Iowa, Santorum has received an unusually high amount of attention from the frontrunner.  Opposition emails from the Romney camp and conference calls with surrogates have bashed Santorum for his record on earmarks and his 2008 endorsement of his now rival.

It is no coincidence that the attacks come just one day before the Colorado and Minnesota caucuses and Missouri primary -- all states where Santorum is showing strength and may even have a chance to win.

He'll watch returns Tuesday night in Missouri, whose non-binding contest will not have Newt Gingrich on the ballot, and where campaign advisers say he'll show his strength against Romney in a field without Gingrich.

"Our hope is that conservatives who are stepping back and looking at the race and making the same calculation that I've just made that a Romney nomination would not be in the best interest of us winning the general election and we need to have a conservative alternative," he said.

"My feeling is that Speaker Gingrich sort of had his chance in the arena and came up short in Florida and Nevada and now it's our turn hopefully to get a one-on-one in Missouri, which we have."

Monday's address on health care was the second time in as many weeks that the Santorum camp has billed a campaign stop as a major health care speech.  The former Massachusetts governor's support of a health care bill containing a mandate has been a term the GOP presidential hopeful brings out almost daily on the campaign trail. It's a message that has not been received well since the Hawkeye State, but Romney attacks show neighboring states like Minnesota may be tuning in.

But Santorum dismissed any criticisms that his attacks could do nothing more than bring down the eventual nominee.

"Let me assure you that the president will do a much better job and a much, much, much more caustic job of doing that than I will, which is just basically talking about his record and that's all I talk about and I suspect the president will embellish that quite a bit more than I have," said Santorum.

But he did not rule out sharing a ticket with a man he has fiercely criticized throughout his campaign.  "I'm not going to run as a third party, but I will do whatever I can to make sure Barack Obama is not the next president of the United States," he said.

 Update at 11:24 p.m. ET

From Ryan Williams, press secretary for presidential candidate Mitt Romney:

“Rick Santorum has had a history in this campaign of making false statements about Mitt Romney’s record – this is just one more example. Mitt Romney will repeal Obamacare.  Rick Santorum is hoping to get some momentum behind his campaign, but has unfortunately resorted to false and negative attacks."