Former GOP senator: Healthcare could sink Mitt Romney in 2012

Former Sen. and likely 2012 Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum (Pa.), is getting tougher on some of his potential GOP rivals, particularly the man many peg as the early front-runner — former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

In an interview with The Hill, Santorum said the path to the GOP nomination for the candidate he endorsed in 2008 may be all but blocked in 2012 thanks to the healthcare law Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts.

"I think it's hard to see a path for him given the 'Obamacare' issue," Santorum said, noting the similarities between the healthcare plan championed by Romney and the one enacted by congressional Democrats and signed into law by President Obama last year. "It's just hard for me to see how he gets past that [in a Republican primary]."

The shot across Romney's bow comes as Santorum is ramping up his own efforts in the early primary states. He plans to announce his first staff hire in New Hampshire before the end of this week and will visit the Granite State for the eighth time later this month.

Santorum has also made more than a dozen visits to the early states of Iowa and South Carolina.

Along with the economy, Santorum said he fully expects healthcare to remain near the top of the agenda for Republican primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire in 2012, and said his condemnation of the law and call for a full repeal have been met with enthusiasm from audiences in both states.

"What the president has done — and this is the typical left, 'We know better, we'll structure the marketplace, we'll run it and it'll be better than if people do it in the private sector,' " he said. "It's a lie. It doesn't work."

Asked if there was anything worth saving in the healthcare law, which the new House Republican leadership will target with a repeal vote next week, Santorum responded emphatically, "No."

"Even the parts that I would consider not unreasonable things are intertwined with mandates and this top-down philosophy," he said. "There are things in that healthcare bill that I think states should consider doing, but the federal government doesn't need to be doing any of those things."

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