Posted at 01:00 PM ET, 02/18/2012

Santorum slams Romney for “bailing out” Olympics

This post has been updated.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Happy anniversary, Mitt Romney.

While the former Massachusetts governor is in Utah today celebrating 10 years since the Salt Lake City Olympics, his White House rival, former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), delivered a blistering critique Saturday morning of Romney’s role in saving the games.

“(Romney) heroically showed up on the scene and bailed out and resolved the problems of the Salt Lake Olympic Games,” Santorum told an enthusiastic group of about 300 tea party supporters gathered in a conference room an airport hotel here. “He heroically bailed out the Salt
Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum campaiging in Detroit on Thursday. (Paul Sancya - AP)
Lake Olympic Games by heroically going to Congress and asking them for tens of millions of dollars to bail out the Salt Lake Olympic Games. In an earmark. In an earmark for the Salt Lake Olympic Games.”

He added that John McCain, the Arizona Republican senator who has endorsed Romney in this year’s GOP race, “called it potentially the worst boondoggle in earmark history.”

“Does the word hypocrisy come to mind?” Santorum asked the crowd, to applause.

“Sometimes when you shoot from the hip, you end up shooting yourself in the foot, ” Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul responded Saturday. “ There is a pretty wide gulf between seeking money for post-9/11 security at the Olympics and seeking earmarks for polar bear exhibits at the Pittsburgh Zoo. Mitt Romney wants to ban earmarks, Senator Santorum wants more ‘Bridges to Nowhere’.”

Romney’s role in helping to rescue the Salt Lake City games has become a key part of his biography, one that the former Massachusetts governor has frequently cited on the trail as an example of his skill as a leader capable of turning around even the direst of situations.

Romney’s camp has responded to Democratic attacks on his role in securing funding for the Olympics by noting that most of the funding went to security.

But in his 2004 book, “Turnaround,” Romney explained that the organizers of the games had decided long before he took the helm that they would seek more federal funding than had ever before been spent on an Olympics held in the U.S. Much of that funding went toward transportation and infrastructure as well as toward security.

In responding to Santorum Saturday, Romney’s camp also noted that the former senator voted in favor of several measures appropriating money for the Salt Lake City Olympics.

The Olympic critique from Santorum, who is riding a surge in the polls and is seeking to dislodge Romney from his role as GOP frontrunner, is just the latest sign that the former Pennsylvania senator is setting his sights on a two-person race for the Republican presidential nod as the race enters a crucial stretch before Super Tuesday.

He criticized Romney both directly and indirectly, telling the raucous crowd at the end of his speech to “speak loudly and clearly about the message and the messenger” that they want in the November general election and urging them not to choose someone burdened by “imprudent decisions that were made in their political past.”

Santorum’s focus on Romney comes as the Romney camp is continuing its assault on the former senator’s record in Washington, particularly his support for earmarks.

Santorum on Saturday defended the legislative pet projects, telling the tea party crowd, “Let’s talk about the real issues of the day. ... The idea that every earmark is a bad one is simply false.”

He honed in on the issue of entitlement reform, drawing loud applause when he pledged to pursue reforms bolder than the ones proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

“We are on the verge of bankruptcy, folks,” Santorum said. “We need to do something now and we can’t wait ten years.”

And he played up his blue-collar roots as he’s frequently done on the trail in states such as Ohio, making mention of his Pennsylvania roots and taking aim at “imperious, snobbish elitist leaders” in Washington.

Santorum, who has been rounding up support among Ohio conservatives, clearly resonated with the crowd.

“We love you, Rick!” one woman shouted during his speech.

At another point, as Santorum was talking about the Constitution, he uttered the words, “And endowed by –”

“Their creator!” the crowd shouted back, giving Santorum a standing ovation.

By  |  01:00 PM ET, 02/18/2012

 
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