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Romney campaign: Santorum 'flunked' major presidential competency exam

By NBC's Garrett Haake and Jamie Novogrod

DAYTON, Ohio -- The Romney campaign opened a new front in its battle against Rick Santorum on Saturday, labeling the former Pennsylvania senator "not ready for prime time" and as having "flunked" a major presidential competency exam for his failure to file complete slates of delegates in several Super Tuesday primary states.

On a conference call with reporters meant to highlight the wide disparity in organizational prowess between the two Republican frontrunners, Romney national counsel Ben Ginsberg described Santorum's inability to file complete slates of delegates or get on the ballot in Ohio, Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois and the District of Columbia "almost unprecedented," in Republican presidential politics.

All told, according to the Romney campaign, Santorum's lack of ballot access will make him ineligible for fully 16 percent of the 391 bound delegates allocated on Super Tuesday alone.

Santorum's failures, Ginsberg said, “should give Republican voters great pause as we get ready to face President Obama.” Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, piled on, telling reporters, "This goes right to the heart of [Santorum's] own inability to run a campaign"

While one senior Romney adviser said this week he did not expect the field of candidates to shrink immediately following Super Tuesday, a memo to reporters from the campaign's political director, Rich Beeson, summarized the plight Santorum may find himself in should he fall much further behind in the delegate count come Wednesday. 

"Rick Santorum can point to states in April and beyond that are permitted to award delegates 'winner take all' – but many of these states are not friendly territory for him – Delaware, New Jersey, and Utah are just a few examples," Beeson wrote. "The bottom line is the Santorum campaign goes into Super Tuesday severely hobbled by his lack of organization and planning and systemic problem will only continue to plague him through the rest of the primary calendar."

Updated at 3:45 p.m. ET: Saturday, Santorum suggested the glitch is the result of a decision made months ago, when his campaign had little money and much less exposure.

“This was back in November and December,” Santorum told reporters of the filing deadlines. “Things were a little different than they are now.”

Still, it leaves questions about his organization heading into key contests next week.

But the former senator looked beyond Super Tuesday, saying he hoped to pick up states and perform strongly in upcoming Southern contests, which will likely be less friendly to Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.

"And I think we're going to come out of these states in good shape with a lot of delegates and I'm hopeful that we can go into Alabama and Mississippi with a strong head of steam -- and hopefully you know pick up those states and go from there."