Discuss as:

In Wisconsin, Santorum slams Romney while Romney raps Obama

Jae C. Hong / AP

Rick Santorum shakes hands with supporters after speaking at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Presidential Kick-Off in Pewaukee, Wis., on Saturday.

WAUKESHA, Wis. -- The current state of the Republican nominating contest was on display in Wisconsin on Saturday, with underdog Rick Santorum vigorously slamming front-runner Mitt Romney, while the former Massachusetts governor ignored his GOP rivals and focused solely on President Barack Obama.

Three of the four remaining candidates vying for the Republican nomination took the same stage within minutes of each other here at the Faith and Freedom Coalition rally.  As Santorum repeated his often used line that Romney is "uniquely disqualified" to go head-to-head with Obama on the issue of health care, Romney focused on the president for creating what he called "a government-centered society."


Santorum's rhetoric against a fellow Republican is a departure from the typical remarks candidates have given at previous Faith and Freedom events held this campaign season.  The group draws a variety of GOP voters, and one candidate bad-mouthing another is usually avoided.  But the former Pennsylvania senator did not tone down the attacks he frequently uses on the stump.

NBC's Ron Mott reports.

 "He created the blueprint for Obamacare and advocated for exactly what Obamacare is, which is a mandated health insurance program...it is exactly the Massachusetts health care plan," Santorum said of Romney. "He is uniquely disqualified."

But the former Massachusetts governor delivered a campaign speech that seemed to be geared toward a general election.  It is a refined speech the candidate unveiled over the past few days, just as new polling shows him with a lead in Wisconsin and the requisite 1,144 delegates to secure the nomination looking increasingly possible.

"President Obama believes in a government-centered society. He doesn't call it that precisely, but you listen to his speeches, there's no question, he believes government guiding our lives will do a better job in doing so than individuals, pursuing their own freedoms in their own ways," Romney said.

Steven Senne / AP

Mitt Romney speaks to an audience during a meeting of the Wisconsin Faith and Freedom Coalition during a campaign stop in Pewaukee, Wis., Saturday.

The GOP front-runner even took a jab at the number two man in the Obama administration, Vice President Joe Biden.

“If you’re looking for something to go after in a political sense, just listen to the Vice President. He’s got plenty of material for us,” Romney joked.

Newt Gingrich, who is running a distant fourth in Wisconsin according to the new NBC News/Marist poll, also attended the forum and also failed to hit his Republican competitors.

Gingrich spent the bulk of his 20-minute speech addressing issues of energy and religious freedoms and even touched on the upcoming recall election in the state.

“I commend you for standing there and being willing to fight to make sure we win,” the former House speaker said in response to questions regarding the recall election of Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. “I think it is clearly one of the most important elections in American history and will literally change behavior all across the country.”

Perhaps receiving the warmest reception at the event held just outside of Milwaukee, Congressman Paul Ryan spoke briefly and introduced Romney, the candidate he will vote for Tuesday in the primary.

Both Santorum and Gingrich addressed Ryan during their speeches but took different approaches.

While Gingrich called the congressman “a great guy,” Santorum referred to Ryan as “some other Wisconsinite.”

Ryan said, "I've known these gentlemen for years. Newt is a brilliant man, he's been a friend for a long time. He's got a big place in history. I served with Rick for years in congress I have nothing but good things to say about these men."

"I think we need to coalesce around the person who we think is going to be the best president...And in my humble opinion that person is Mitt Romney," said Ryan.