Surrogates for Romney paint Rick Santorum as liberal on fiscal issues

Mitt Romney's campaign turned up the heat on Rick Santorum, accusing the former senator as being part of "the liberal wing" of the Republican Party on fiscal issues and saying "he's wrong now to cast himself as the broad comprehensive conservative" as polls show the former Massachusetts governor losing ground in the race for the presidential nomination.

Romney surrogates attempted to highlight Santorum's voting record on earmarks and increasing the federal debt ceiling as polls show strong conservatives increasingly coalescing around the former senator's campaign.

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In a poll released Tuesday by CBS and The New York Times, Santorum was the choice of 38 percent of conservatives — versus just 24 percent for Romney. Thirty-six percent of Tea Party voters backed Santorum, with 24 percent breaking for Romney. Santorum's support among white evangelicals has jumped to 39 percent, up from just 23 percent last month.

But Romney's backers argue that voters simply aren't aware of Santorum's voting history.

"Mitt Romney has a much more comprehensively conservative record than Rick does," said former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), who argued that Santorum's voting record on fiscal policies "shows he's been in the liberal wing [of the party]."

Talent argued votes for the No Child Left Behind education reform package and against "right-to-work" legislation that would constrain unions underscored his liberal tendencies.

"He's wrong now to cast himself as the across-the-board comprehensive conservative," Talent said.

Campaign surrogates repeatedly pointed to Santorum's 18-percentage point loss in his 2006 Senate reelection campaign, arguing that voters had punished Santorum for abandoning conservative ideology.

"The reason he got beat, I think, was that he moved so far way from his fiscal conservative principles," Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) argued on the call.

Romney's campaign hopes that the governor will be able to undermine Santorum's late surge, the latest in a string of challengers to bubble up throughout the nominating process.

On Monday, Romney supporter and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell hit Santorum for comments he made about military women serving on the front lines in combat situations.

"I like Rick Santorum a lot. I just disagree with any inference that he might have made that somehow women are not capable of serving in the frontlines and serving in combat positions. And I base that in part on my own daughter’s own experience as a platoon leader in Iraq with 25 men working with her," McDonnell said on CNN Monday afternoon. "She did a great job, was in some risky situations, and yet endured and led and I’m proud of her."