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Romney jokes about Santorum, responds to Russia on 'Tonight Show'

Romney has faced heated attacks from Santorum, who has sought to position himself as the conservative alternative to the GOP front-runner.

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"You're on all the time when you're running for office. Everything you say is being followed," Romney said to host Jay Leno. "You don't always get every word just right, so you have to give people a little bit of slack, I think, in this case. Rick Santorum's a good guy; he's running a good campaign."

Santorum recently called Romney "the worst candidate to go against Barack Obama," later clarifying that he meant this with regard to the topic of healthcare. This week, he also said he would consider a position as vice president in a Romney administration.

Romney noted that he and Santorum have some differences in background and "on some issues," but added: "I'm happy with him saying he'd like to be part of an administration with me. Nothing wrong with that." 

Asked to give one-word responses to a list of possible Republican vice presidential picks, Romney called New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie "indomitable," Florida Sen. Marco Rubio "the American Dream," Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) "creative," South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley "energetic" and real estate magnate Donald Trump — a Romney supporter — "huge." Asked for his first response to "Rick Santorum," Romney came up with "press secretary," a winking reference to Santorum's recent heated exchange with a reporter.

Asked to clarify his criticisms of Romney on the campaign trail, Santorum had lashed out at New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny, accusing him of distorting the meaning of his statements and calling his questions "bulls--t."  

Asked about Romney's "press secretary" gibe on the late-night show, Santorum said: “Somebody needs to work on his jokes," according to Reuters.

Romney also offered to do Leno a "favor" with his vice presidential pick if he does become the GOP nominee. “I’ll choose David Letterman. We can help us both out," he joked.

Weighing in on recent campaign issues, Romney called pornography, against which Santorum has called for greater enforcement, a "peripheral issue."

He also responded to recent criticism from Russia.

Romney called Russia "our No. 1 geopolitical foe" after Obama was caught on a live mic asking Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for "space" to deal with missile defense. In return, Medvedev said Romney needed to “look at his watch," suggesting his foreign policy on Russia is a thing of the past.

But Romney doubled down on his criticism Tuesday evening, denying that Russia has aligned its interests with the United States'. 

"The Russian people, certainly, are people like us," he said. "But you have [President-elect] Vladimir Putin." He noted again that Russia is supporting Iran, Syria and leaders like Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.

"They basically stand up for the world's worst actors, and when America tries to put pressure on those actors, through sanctions, Russia always stands up for what I consider to be the world's worst leaders," he continued. "If they were like us, they'd be in favor of freedom instead of opposing it."