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Santorum launches new group, but circumspect on Romney

 

CHICAGO -- Rick Santorum is fully behind Mitt Romney.  Kind of.

Speaking to reporters ahead of his address to the Conservative Political Action Conference here, the former Republican presidential candidate called Romney "a tremendous improvement" over President Obama. But, he added, "As I said during the campaign, I think we could have been even more of an improvement, but that issue has passed."

The former Pennsylvania senator said he will be campaigning for Romney, though he did not have any specifics on when the two will be together.

Instead he said he will support the GOP nominee through his new non-profit group, "Patriot Voices," launched Friday to promote conservative candidates and the issues he pushed in his campaign.

Santorum endorsed the former Massachusetts governor in a late-night email to supporters last month after the two held a private meeting in Pittsburgh.  He has dismissed speculation that any bad blood exists between the two after what became a fierce and negative primary battle.

The role Santorum will play at the convention is still unclear. He met with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus recently to ensure his delegates are able to play a role in Tampa.

"I want to make sure that the folks who represent the values that I did during this campaign are also able to come to that convention and have their voices heard," said Santorum. "I certainly have encouraged everyone to support Gov. Romney as I have, but there are a lot of other issues at a convention other than just, you know, voting for the nominee.”

Like the annual CPAC event in February, Santorum took the stage after an introduction from Foster Friess, the chief backer of the pro-Santorum Super PAC Red, White and Blue Fund.  Back then, Friess joked that Romney was a conservative, moderate and liberal all wrapped into one.  But on Friday, he had nothing but words of encouragement for the man he spent so much money trying to defeat. In front of the crowd of conservative activists, Santorum also expressed support for Romney when he took the stage.

And Santorum declined to weigh in on what will be one of Romney's vice presidential pick. "If I was the nominee I wouldn't want other people telling me who to put in."