Romney hits Santorum over ‘I don’t care’ about jobless rate comment

Rick Santorum handed Mitt Romney ammunition to further his criticism that the GOP contender is an "economic lightweight" on Monday when he said on the campaign trail in Illinois: "I don't care what the unemployment rate's going to be." 

Romney's campaign immediately pounced on the comment with an email, and at a campaign stop on Monday, Romney directly called out his primary rival for the Republican presidential nomination.  

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"I'm concerned about the people who are out of work," said Romney. "One of the people who's running also for the Republican nomination today said that he doesn't care about the unemployment rate; that doesn't bother him. I do care about the unemployment rate. It does bother me. I want to get people back to work."

Romney has staked his message on economic issues and his own business experience, and his campaign has hit Santorum over the past week as "an economic lightweight." Romney’s camp is running an ad in Illinois, which holds its primary on Tuesday, that says for Santorum, the "real weakness is the economy."

Santorum's comments this week appeared to play right into Romney's hands. 


Santorum tried to clarify his comments on Monday night, saying the economy and unemployment are "important" but they are symptoms of a larger problem.

"I always talk about how there's big things at stake in this election, and the economy's important, unemployment's important. But that's not the big issue," he said on Fox News. 

"The big issue is how we are losing our freedom because really the government controlling businesses and people's lives is what's causing the economy to be in such bad straits right now. So we have to look at the fundamental issue, and the fundamental issue in America is whether we're going to be a free country and whether government is going to be dictating to us what healthcare, what loans, what cars, and everything else in our lives," he added.

In his original remarks, made in Illinois, Santorum advocated the need for "a fighter for freedom." 

"My campaign doesn't hinge on unemployment rates and growth rates," he said. "There's something more foundational that's going on here."

Both front-runners are campaigning in Illinois, where the primary vote takes place Tuesday, and where recent polls put Romney in the lead.