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Mitt Romney attacks Rick Santorum for No Child vote

Mitt Romney attacked Rick Santorum on Thursday for saying that he voted for the federal No Child Left Behind legislation even though it went against his beliefs — seeing in his opponent’s candid acknowledgment a chance to undermine his claim to be the true conservative in the Republican presidential race.

Romney and his campaign officials repeatedly criticized the former senator from Pennsylvania for saying in a debate Wednesday night that he voted for the education overhaul because he had to “take one for the team,” despite the bill being “against the principles I believed in.”

“He talked about this being ‘taking one for the team,’ ” Romney said at a morning campaign stop in Phoenix before jetting off to Michigan. “I wonder which team he was taking it for. My team is the American people, not the insiders in Washington. . . . I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a politician explain in so many ways why it was he voted against his principles.”

Santorum’s remarks, which he defended moments later when addressing reporters after the debate, played into Romney’s attempts to define his chief rival as a product of Washington.

On Glenn Beck’s Internet show Thursday evening, Santorum said he did not regret acknowledging during the debate that he had been wrong on occasion while he was a senator. He blamed the corrupting influence of Washington.

“I feel very good about the fact that I didn’t get sucked in very often,” he said. “I fought the battles and I was very much of a rabble-rousing conservative. But even I got — you know, every now and again I said, ‘Aw, jeez.’ ”

While Romney held rallies in Arizona and Michigan, Santorum spent most of Thursday at private fundraisers in Texas, trying to bring in enough cash to fuel his campaign beyond what will be an expensive stretch, including Super Tuesday contests on March 6. He is scheduled to return to Michigan for a rally Friday evening.

All week, polling has shown the Michigan race to be a dead heat between Romney and Santorum. A Detroit Free Press-WXYZ survey released Thursday had Santorum in a slight lead, 37 percent to 34 percent, which is within the margin of error. Polls show Romney way ahead in Arizona, where his campaign has been mobilizing supporters since early voting began at the beginning of February.

For Romney, the stakes in Michigan loom large. He was born and raised in the state, where his father, George, served three terms as a popular governor, and a loss here would severely damage his candidacy.

So Romney is pressing to win over recalcitrant conservatives. He was scheduled to address a tea party rally Thursday night in Milford, as well as a meeting Thursday of Americans for Prosperity, a tea party-aligned group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers.

Romney is using rhetoric that may come back to hurt him in a general-election contest against President Obama, but he has calculated that he must use it now to secure the nomination. In his Arizona speech, Romney lashed out at labor unions, an important political constituency in Rust Belt swing states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania, by charging that Obama “bows” to organized labor.

The president, he said, prefers to “brush aside the principles of free enterprise and fair play and instead tilt the entire playing field in our economy toward the people who have financed his campaign,” Romney said in Arizona. “That kind of crony capitalism we have not seen in this country to the extent that we’re seeing it in this administration, I don’t think in history.”

Obama, meanwhile, tried to further damage Romney by airing a new television advertisement in Michigan that criticizes all of the Republican candidates for opposing the federal auto bailout.

“When a million jobs were on the line, every Republican candidate turned their back, [one] even said, ‘Let Detroit go bankrupt,’ ” the narrator says in the ad.

Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting Romney, debuted an ad that highlights the fuzzy laws governing modern campaigns. The spot features Romney’s efforts to find the missing 14-year-old daughter of Robert Gay, a former Bain Capital co-partner, presenting the candidate in heroic terms.

The ad is strikingly similar to an ad that Romney’s first presidential campaign aired in 2007. Campaign finance law prohibits super PACs from coordinating with campaigns. Charlie Spies, treasurer of the pro-Romney super PAC, said his group bought rights to the footage from a third party and did not interact with the Romney campaign.

Somashekhar reported from Phoenix. Staff writer Rachel Weiner in Washington contributed to this report.

Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.
Sandhya Somashekhar is the social change reporter for the Washington Post.

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