Posted at 03:48 PM ET, 02/20/2012

Mitt Romney sharpens attacks against Rick Santorum

CINCINNATI, Ohio — Mitt Romney stepped up his attacks on rival Rick Santorum on Monday, accusing the former Pennsylvania senator of being a Washington insider who betrayed his conservative roots by voting to raise the debt limit and seeking earmarks for his state.

Romney, who lags behind Santorum in some recent Republican presidential polls, said Santorum was elected to office as a “budget hawk” who then failed to deliver on his promise, instead contributing to the growth of the government.

“During his time the Senate, only two terms, the size of the government grew 80 percent,” Romney told workers at a medical supply manufacturer here. “When Republicans go to Washington and spend like Democrats, we have a lot of spending.”

Romney went on to tout his experience in the private sector, criticize the health-care overhaul as an example of government overreach, and praise American entrepreneurship as the true economic engine of the country.

It was a rare instance in which Romney directly criticized one of his opponents. It served as an acknowledgment that he is taking seriously the threat posed by Santorum, who won a trio of nominating contests this month and holds a tenuous lead in polls in Ohio, Michigan and nationally.

The threat is greatest in Michigan, where Romney was born and raised and where his father served as governor. A win by Santorum there in the Feb. 28 primary would upend the race and reinforce doubts of Romney’s strength as a candidate. Romney and Santorum each closed out the day in Michigan, and Romney's wife, Ann Romney, was scheduled to speak at an event there Monday evening.

Both campaigns attempted Monday to downplay expectations in the state, with Santorum adviser Hogan Gidley telling CNN that “Michigan is an important state, but it’s not the only state,” and Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom on MSNBC asserting that Michigan is not a “must-win” for his candidate.

By  |  03:48 PM ET, 02/20/2012

 
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