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Santorum says he was 'outsider' during time in Congress

 

PHOENIX, AZ -- Rick Santorum told a crowd of Arizona Republicans today that he was "an outsider when he was inside" Washington, arguing he fought corruption and wasteful spending during his 16 years in Congress.

In his first campaign stop in Arizona, the former Pennsylvania senator pushed back against the onslaught of attacks he is now facing with his rise as a frontrunner in the Republican presidential contest.  Rival Ron Paul released a television ad in Michigan today attacking Santorum's spending record and Mitt Romney's campaign blasted out another round of opposition research calling Santorum a career politician.

But here at a Lincoln Day Luncheon, Santorum said that despite his time serving both in the House and Senate, he was never part of the Washington establishment. 

"When we came to Congress, we came and we shook things up to its very core," Santorum said about himself and former Rep. Frank Riggs, who now serves as the campaign's Arizona state chairman.

Without using Romney's name, Santorum said the former Massachusetts governor can portray himself as a Washington outsider due to his 1994 Senate bid.

"I think it’s really fascinating that here’s the guy who was outside of Washington, who was not a Senator or Congressman—not because he didn’t try—he just never got elected,” Santorum said.

"You see all these commercials, Rick Santorum is a big spender, but they never once mention, talk about how I voted for any increase in the appropriation bills. Why? Because I never did," said Santorum. "I voted to cut appropriation bills. They never talk about how I voted for a tax increase. Why? Because I never did in 16 years of public life … I voted for smaller government, lower taxes, less regulation -- the things that we need desperately in this country."

Showing a renewed interest in Santorum, the Romney campaign was quick to counter.  Ryan Williams, a spokesman from Romney, emailed out a statement: “Republican primary voters have a clear choice. Mitt Romney spent his career helping turn around companies, the Olympics, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. At the same time, Congressman/Senator Rick Santorum spent his career in Washington, voting repeatedly to increase the debt ceiling and his own pay."

Santorum, latest Republican candidate to surge in the polls, is finding renewed scrutiny not only from his rival candidates, but also the national media.  Recent comments questioning President Obama's theology and suggesting the president discriminates against disabled people have put under the microscope.

"Will you be the generation that sat on the sidelines and watched as candidate after candidate comes up and the national media takes their axe out to try to destroy them in every way possible as they’ve done with every single republican candidate," Santorum said.

Initially, Santorum advisers did not view Arizona as a state where they could have much impact, but recent polls show him closer than expected to Romney ahead of the state's Feb. 28 primary.

Santorum will hold a rally in Phoenix tonight before heading to Tuscan for an event ahead of Wednesday night's debate.