CHILLICOTHE, OH -- Speaking to several hundred people inside a high school gym Friday, Rick Santorum declared he is running an “insurgent” campaign against a Washington establishment he described as “old boy.”
“We’re running a grassroots, insurgent campaign,” Santorum said, before adding that his own supporters “don’t want what Washington and the old boy network is going to give us again.”
The remarks, an apparent swipe at Mitt Romney, were the latest development in a back-and-forth between the two candidates days before the Super Tuesday contest in Ohio and other key states.
Santorum went to great lengths to paint a picture of his once-long shot candidacy as a populist but viable alternative to Romney’s, telling the crowd his campaign raised about $9 million during February.
“Two thirds of that money came from small-dollar donors,” Santorum said, adding, “two thirds of Governor Romney’s money comes from people who max out at 25-hundred dollars.”
(Per federal elections law, the limit on individual contributions to a national political campaign is $2,500.)
But nowhere was the tension between the two men more evident than in Santorum’s attack on the Michigan Republican Party for awarding a delegate Thursday to Romney, tilting what the Santorum team had assumed was a tied delegate count in Tuesday’s primary in Michigan to a 16-14 haul in Romney’s favor.
“They were so embarrassed yesterday they decided to change the rules after the fact,” said Santorum of the state's Republican Party, which he said “felt bad” that Romney hadn’t won the delegate count outright.
“You know, my feeling on that is conservatives – Americans – play by the rules,” Santorum added. “We don’t change the rules afterward.”
In a measure of the tightening race here in Ohio, a Romney aide circulated among reporters at the event Friday, offering responses to Santorum’s attacks.
“He’s sour that he’s just lost three straight states,” said Ryan Williams, a Romney campaign spokesman, of Santorum and the result of contests in Arizona, Michigan and Wyoming this week. (The Wyoming caucuses straw poll was non-binding.)
Williams added that a rule awarding two “at-large” Republican delegates to the winner of the popular vote in Michigan had been decided by the state GOP prior to the Feb. 28th primary.
The sniping didn’t end there.
In remarks to reporters following his speech, Santorum also commented on a video first reported by ABC News, showing Romney vowing in 2002 to pursue federal money for in-state projects in Massachusetts.
“Hypocrisy, plain and simple,” Santorum said of the video, which was shot during the Massachusetts governor’s race. Romney has made attacking Santorum for the practice of “earmarking” central in his effort to ward off the former Pennsylvania senator.
But among voters Friday, the candidates' attacks on each other didn’t seem to register.
Patty Null, a retired teacher living on social security, said her main concern is Ohio’s flagging economy.
“Our taxes are too high, our utilities are too high,” she said. “We just can’t make it anymore.”