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In tepid Ohio reception, Romney criticizes Santorum fiscal record

 

CINCINNATI, Ohio -- Locked in a tight contest with Rick Santorum across the Midwest for the delegate-rich states of Michigan and Ohio, Mitt Romney continued his assault on the former Pennsylvania senator's fiscal conservatism today, saying he, not Santorum, was the true "budget hawk."

"One of the people I'm running against, Sen. Santorum, goes to Washington and calls himself a budget hawk,” Romney said in a campaign stop at a medical device company this afternoon before about 100. “Then after he’s been there a while he says he’s no longer a budget hawk. Well, I am a budget hawk. I don’t want to spend more money than we take in.

The attack line comes as polls show Romney trailing in Ohio to Santorum and as the campaign has looked to paint its latest primary rival as the consummate "career politician" -- the same attack they levied with varying degrees of success against Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. His campaign has held almost daily conference calls and fill reporter inboxes with research on Santorum's voting record and years in Washington. In recent days, the candidate himself has begun to step up his rhetoric against Santorum, a trend which continued today, with little variance from previous attacks.

"[Santorum] voted five times to raise the debt ceiling without any compensating cuts in spending,” Romney said. “During his time in the Senate, over two terms, the size of the federal government grew 80 percent. When Republicans go to Washington and spend like Democrats, we get a lot of spending. And that’s what we’ve seen over the last several years."

The Romney campaign has also looked to gain traction in the Midwest by deploying their big-name surrogates. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and Romney’s wife, Ann Romney, have all spoken on Romney's behalf at events in Michigan. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is holding a conference call with reporters on Romney's behalf this afternoon, and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (who Democrats were quick to point out today has also cast votes to raise the debt ceiling) introduced Romney to his home-state audience today.

Bold-faced names aside, Romney kept the focus on his own experience while addressing the small group of employees who gathered to hear his address, telling them that the experience of leadership -- of anything -- should be required for prospective presidents.

"I happen to think that one of the criteria for selecting the president ought to be: has this person led something before,” Romney said. “Our current president had not, and I think we've seen the consequence of that in some of the errors that he's made. I have led things. The business I started, the business I helped turn around, an Olympics, and a state. Take a look at that record."

Today's single campaign event was also notable for what it lacked -- many of the hallmarks of a traditional Romney campaign stop. There was no warm up music, no mention of "America the Beautiful," a minimal amount of signs, and a noticeable lack of energy from the crowd; People applauded only sparingly as Romney defended his fiscal conservatism and lauded the entrepreneurial spirit of the people of Ohio.