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In South Carolina, Santorum defends record on earmarks

Rick Santorum on Wednesday defended his record on congressional earmarks — and then took the politically risky step of blaming Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for giving them undue attention in Washington.

“Earmarks as an issue was created by John McCain,” Santorum said at a midday rally at the Westin resort here. “The reason John McCain created the earmark controversy, you see, is because he needed to say he was tough on spending.”

During his 2008 run for president, McCain had been a champion of reforming the system by which Congress funnels money to the states for special projects. Urged on by the tea party, Congress eventually eliminated earmarks this year.

McCain, who won this state’s primary four years ago, has endorsed Mitt Romney in the GOP primary and has traveled South Carolina in support of his candidacy.

Santorum had frequently secured earmarks for his state during his 16 years as a senator from Pennsylvania and voted for the famous “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska.

He has since said the practice was abused and has said on the campaign trail that he supports their elimination. But he has also defended his record, saying he was helping to steer U.S. taxpayer money to appropriate needs.

On Wednesday, Santorum said entitlements were a bigger factor affecting national budget and that he was one if the few willing to tackle that problem while McCain wasn’t.

“He wanted to run as a conservative and so he created an issue that had very little to do with the deficit,” Santorum said.

Sandhya Somashekhar is the social change reporter for the Washington Post.

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