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Santorum accuses Romney of hypocrisy on earmarks

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As Mitt Romney spent Saturday in Salt Lake City celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the Winter Olympics held there, his chief rival in the Republican presidential race is claiming the games are an example of the former Massachusetts governor's hypocrisy.

Stumping in Ohio, Rick Santorum defended himself against Romney's portrayal of the former Pennsylvania senator as a wasteful spender.

It's an attack Romney has repeated on the campaign trail and that a pro-Romney super PAC has made into a TV ad running in Michigan, Ohio and Arizona.  The focus is on Santorum's record on earmarks; the ad contends he called for projects that counter the fiscal conservative record he touts on the trail.

But it is the 2002 Olympic Games that Romney gets credit in helping rescue that shows the hypocrisy of the attacks, Santorum said Saturday.

"That tells you that all of these scurrilous attacks — Mitt Romney saying, 'Oh well, Rick Santorum voted for earmarks and promoted earmarks.' What he doesn’t tell you is one of Mitt Romney's greatest accomplishments, one of the things he talks about most is how he heroically showed up on the scene and bailed out and resolved the problems of the Salt Lake City Olympic Games," said Santorum.

"He heroically bailed out the Salt Lake City Olympic Games by heroically going to Congress and asking them for tens of millions of dollars to bail out the Salt Lake games -- in an earmark, in an earmark for the Salt Lake Olympic Games."

Santorum continued, "And now Gov. Romney is suggesting, 'Oh, Rick Santorum earmarked' as he requested almost half a billion dollars in earmarks as governor of Massachusetts to his federal congressmen and senators. Does the word hypocrisy come to mind?"

The Romney campaign was quick to refute the claim.  Campaign spokesperson Andea Saul e-mailed reporters, "Sometimes when you shoot from the hip, you end up shooting yourself in the foot. There is a pretty wide gulf between seeking money for post-9/11 security at the Olympics and seeking earmarks for polar bear exhibits at the Pittsburgh Zoo. Mitt Romney wants to ban earmarks, Senator Santorum wants more ‘Bridges to Nowhere.’”

Being attacked on his spending record is not new for the candidate now considered a front-runner in the nomination contest.  It was Rick Perry who originally rolled out the attack in Iowa, citing projects like an indoor rainforest and the 'Bridge to Nowhere' in Alaska as proof that Santorum is a Washington insider who did not practice the fiscal conservatism he now preaches.  But the attack did not gain much traction, and Santorum went on to win the Iowa caucus.

His defense has always been that — as a member of Congress — Santorum had the power of the purse, and earmarks were at one time a helpful resource.

"So lets just not condemn all...there was abuse, and we stopped it. But the idea that every earmark is a bad one is simply false," he said.