Posted at 03:20 PM ET, 02/17/2012

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine endorses Rick Santorum, rescinding support for Mitt Romney

Ohio attorney general and former Sen. Mike DeWine endorsed former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum in Columbus Friday afternoon.

DeWine had previously endorsed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. He is the most high profile defection from Romney’s campaign so far.

“You have to give people a reason to believe that under your leadership, America will be better,” DeWine said in a statement. “Rick Santorum has done that. Sadly, Governor Romney has not.

“For some time now, it has been clear to me that Rick Santorum should be the Republican nominee for President. To be frank, I’ve had some sleepless nights. I could not, in good conscience, beon record endorsing Governor Romney when I knew in my heart that Rick Santorum was the better candidate.”

DeWine had been a supporter of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty but backed Romney in October after Pawlenty left the race.

“I think he has both the ability to unite the party and have general election appeal,” DeWine said then of Romney. “I think the issue in this campaign is going to be jobs.

“I think people are going to feel a lot more comfortable with Mitt Romney being able to deal with this than Barack Obama.”

Polls show Santorum now leading in Ohio, a state that will hold its Republican primary on Super Tuesday, March 6. The DeWine endorsement could prove an important boost to Santorum as he tries to peel off support from Romney.

Santorum ignored repeated requests for comment on the endorsement following a speech at Christian group in Shelby Township, Mich. Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley promised the Ohio event, billed a “major announcement,” would “have fireworks.”He declined further comment.

In remarks to the crowd in Michigan, Santorum praised DeWine, not a usual part of his stump speech, noting that DeWine had been defeated for reelection to the Senate in 2006, the same year Santorum lost his race in Pennsylvania. DeWine has returned to public life, however, and was elected Ohio Attorney General in 2010.

While in the Senate, DeWine was one of only three Republicans, along with Santorum and Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, who backed a 2002 bill to allow require that states restore voting rights to felons who have completed their prison terms and finished serving probation.

Romney has attacked Santorum over the vote and an independent PAC supporting Romney has recently begun airing ads in Michigan also hitting Santorum on the issue. Sources said DeWine has been unhappy with the line of attack.

The Romney campaign had no comment on the DeWine switch. Former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, a key Romney surrogate, told reporters on a conference call organized by the Romney campaign: “I do understand that the criticism that has been levied on this vote restoring voting rights to felons by some of the supporters of the Romney camp is one of the reasons if not the biggest reason why Mike DeWine has decided to now be a supporter of Senator Santorum.”

Staff writers Philip Rucker and Rachel Weiner contributed to this story.

This story has been updated.

By and  |  03:20 PM ET, 02/17/2012

Tags:  ohio primary, super tuesday, mike dewine, mitt romney, rick santorum

 
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