Santorum blasts Romney as hypocrite on Olympic earmarks

Rick Santorum called Mitt Romney a hypocrite Saturday for accepting a federal earmark to help save the Salt Lake City Olympic Games — Romneys signature achievement — while airing ads critical of Santorums role securing earmarks for Pennsylvania when he served as senator.

He heroically showed up on the scene and bailed out and resolved the problems of the Salt Lake City Olympic Games, Santorum said, according to The Washington PostHe heroically bailed out the Salt Lake Olympic Games by heroically going to Congress and asking them for tens of millions of dollars to bail out the Salt Lake Olympic Games. In an earmark. In an earmark for the Salt Lake Olympic Games.

“Does the word hypocrisy come to mind?” Santorum added, noting that the GOPs last presidential nominee — Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) — “called it potentially the worst boondoggle in earmark history.”

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Romneys campaign quickly issued a blistering statement of its own, defending the Olympic earmark as a necessity for security in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“Sometimes when you shoot from the hip, you end up shooting yourself in the foot,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “There is a pretty wide gulf between seeking money for post-9/11 security at the Olympics and seeking earmarks for polar bear exhibits at the Pittsburgh Zoo. Mitt Romney wants to ban earmarks, Sen. Santorum wants more ‘Bridges to Nowhere.’”

The Romney campaign also emphasized that taxpayers paid a lower percentage of the costs of the games than the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics.

Santorum was campaigning Saturday at a Tea Party gathering in Columbus, Ohio, while Romney was attending a 10-year anniversary celebration of the games in Salt Lake City. 

The former Pennsylvania senator is hoping that his Olympics critique — paired with attacks highlighting instances wherein Romney accepted federal earmarks as governor of Massachusetts — will effectively neutralize Romneys assault on Santorums congressional record. Those attacks have primarily focused on Santorums support for earmarks.

Santorum again defended the practice to the Ohio crowd.

“Let’s talk about the real issues of the day. ...The idea that every earmark is a bad one is simply false,” Santorum said, according to the Post.

Santorum has emerged as the latest in a string of GOP candidates posing a serious challenge to Romney, the race’s presumptive front-runner. But unlike candidates in the past with clear flaws — Herman Cain’s alleged adultery, Newt Gingrich’s baggage or Rick Perry’s debate flubs — Santorum’s social conservative bona fides and high favorability ratings among Republican primary voters have made attacks difficult.

Meanwhile, Romney must walk the tightrope of undermining Santorum without playing into the image of an attack dog. Earlier this week, Santorum released a campaign ad featuring a Romney impersonator shooting mud at Santorum.

That could be a dangerous calculus to work out on the fly — especially with the pivotal Michigan primary only 10 days away. A loss for Romney in the state where he grew up — and his father served as a popular GOP governor — could seriously undermine his electability argument and grasp on the nomination.

Romney will attend an Olympics reception and figure-skating event later Saturday. Santorum plans a pair of additional campaign stops in Ohio before flying to Georgia in the afternoon.

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