WASHINGTON -- Rick Santorum used the start of oral arguments over President Obama's health-care law on Monday as an opportunity to pounce on his top rival for the Republican presidential nomination.
Standing outside the Supreme Court here, Santorum quickly pivoted from his opposition to the law being discussed in the stately courthouse behind him to an aggressive contrast with Mitt Romney. The former Pennsylvania senator repeated one of his often-used critiques of Romney, calling him "uniquely disqualified" to face off against Obama because of the similarities between the law being debated today and one that Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts.
"There's one candidate who is uniquely disqualified to make the case,” Santorum said. “It's the reason I'm here, and he's not -- the reason that I talk about ‘ObamaCare’ and its impact on the economy and fundamental freedoms and Mitt Romney doesn't. It's because he can't, because he supported government-run health care as governor of Massachusetts."
Santorum used the backdrop of the Supreme Court's west entrance, where a security detail steered him through a crush of reporters hastily gathered for the press conference. Advocates of the health law - who vastly outnumbered opponents outside the courthouse during the opening day of arguments – chanted, “Health care is a right!" at points during Santorum's address.
The setting was fitting for Santorum's frequently touted message. On the campaign trail, he often calls the 2010 health-care law "the most important issue of the day." Repealing the law has been a top priority for Republican voters this primary, and today, Santorum called himself the only person able to do it.
"There's only one candidate that has a chance of winning the Republican nomination who can make this the central issue, that will be a winning issue for us to win the presidency back, and that's Rick Santorum,” Santorum said. “And unfortunately the worst person to make that case is Mitt Romney.”
The fiery rhetoric Santorum has used against his top rival has, at times, caused controversy on the stump. The most recent case happened on Sunday in Franksville, Wisc., when the GOP hopeful called Romney "the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama."
Pressed by reporters about the comments after the event, Santorum lashed out, accusing the media of "distorting" his words and calling questions about his remarks "bull----."
Asked about it today, Santorum did not apologize for the profanity.
"I don't regret taking on a New York Times reporter who was out of line," he said. The campaign is now using the confrontation as a fundraising appeal.
Santorum took a break from campaigning in Wisconsin to visit the nation's capitol, even though he is not on the ballot here for the April 3 primary. His efforts in the coming days will largely be in the Badger State, where he is struggling to keep pace with Romney.
Romney and the pro-Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future are outspending Santorum and allies nearly 10-to-1. Red, White, and Blue Fund today placed a $305,000 ad buy, but that brings the totals to $3 million for Romney to $340,000 for Santorum.
Santorum has remained dismissive of delegate math that has him far behind Romney. In response to a question about the electoral hurdles he faces, Santorum mocked top Romney surrogate John Sununu.
"I heard Governor Sununu say today that all of the significant people have said that Rick Santorum should get out of the race,” Santorum said. “Well, I guess we'll have to leave it to the insignificant voters of America in the remaining primaries to step forward and challenge the significant people who are speaking here in Washington, D.C.”
*** UPDATE *** Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams sends along this response:
"Senator Santorum is becoming increasingly shrill as his campaign hopes fade. It's important that all Republicans keep their focus on President Obama because if we want to repeal Obamacare we need to defeat him first. Obamacare is bad policy and bad law and when Mitt Romney is president he will get rid of it."