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Santorum: Up or down, polls in GOP campaign don't alter my message

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho -- Rick Santorum on Tuesday dismissed the significance of new polls showing him surging to the top of the Republican presidential field, maintaining that he did not care about polls when he sat at the bottom of them and does not care about them now that he's in the lead.

"Two months ago I said don't pay attention to the polls, but now that we're doing well, I'm not going to say, 'Hey, everybody pay attention to the polls,'" Santorum told reporters after addressing a crowd of more than 500 supporters. "Polls come and polls go, we just have to go out and earn it one state at a time and that's what we're doing, we're going one state at a time."

Three national polls have Santorum leading previous frontrunner Mitt Romney, a bump attributable to his wins in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri one week ago. The campaign has raised nearly $4 million since victories in the three races.

Idaho becomes the first Super Tuesday state the former Pennsylvania senator is campaigning in. This week he plans to cover plenty of ground: He began Monday in Washington and will move west to Ohio by the weekend.

His time, which previously almost solely was spent campaigning, now is split between meeting voters publicly and meeting donors privately.

"Don't pay much attention to the polls. It's helped in one way: It’s helped us in fundraising, which is important as we have to now go compete in the bigger states," Santorum said.

He's putting some of the money to work in Romney's home state of Michigan, where two television ads began running Tuesday. Both are positive, touting his conservative credentials. But choosing the Wolverine State to buy ad time is a sign that the campaign feels confident of a strong showing in a primary that Romney won in 2008.

Though mentioning the former Massachusetts governor only a handful of times here, Santorum took some less than subtle jabs at his chief rival. The GOP presidential hopeful said Barack Obama’s health care law is "the issue to center the election around" and there is one candidate -- whom Santorum declined to name -- that will not be able to take the president to task on the topic.

"Don't go to Massachusetts to get any health care because you're going to have to wait a long time," he joked.

But speaking to media after the event, Santorum did not mince his words when speaking about Romney. Now surging, he'll find himself running against a better funded campaign that will now go after him. Asked to respond to how he'll deal with the onslaught, Santorum said, "I guess it’s sort of funny that you know the press’ natural reaction is that any time someone challenges Governor Romney, that the governor’s going to go out there and savage that person instead of going out and talking about his record."

"For Governor Romney, who was doing the same thing at the same time, to now be critical of me is hypocritical. It’s unfortunate that he’s gotten into that game. Where I disagree with Governor Romney I lay out my disagreements, but I don’t lay out hypocritical politics for accusing, going out and lambasting someone for something that I did. That’s the kind of politics I think that people have soured of very, very quickly."

While he shied away from directly attacking Romney for most of his speech, the same was not true for Obama. Making the 2010 health care bill the president signed into law the linchpin of his argument, Santorum argued that a win by Democrats in this year's election will forever change America.

"Go in neighborhoods in America today ... what do you find? Where the family has broken down, there is no marriage. When the church has abandoned ship, where community and civic organizations don't exist because there is no civil society, what do you find? You find people holed up in their homes afraid to go outside at night, who look for the government to help sustain them because they have nowhere else to look," he said.

"That is the future of Barack Obama's America."

At one point Santorum called out the president for not releasing his academic grades, but Santorum has yet to release his tax returns after promising to for the past two weeks. When asked about it, Santorum said he thought that his tax returns had been released earlier in the day, but said that they should be made available soon.

From here, Santorum travels to Boise, Idaho, for an evening rally.