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Santorum’s Ultimate Strategy
Can he persuade GOP voters that only he can run against Obamacare?

Rick Santorum speaks in front of the Supreme Court, March 26, 2012.

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Robert Costa

Here’s a bit of old news: Rick Santorum is committed to staying in the GOP presidential race. Yet, from his perspective, his survival strategy is misunderstood, and in the coming days, he hopes to reframe his candidacy.

As Santorum told reporters at a Monday breakfast, his persistence is not tethered to success in specific primaries. Instead, he is betting his candidacy on an argument — that he, not Mitt Romney, is best equipped to battle Obamacare.

Speaking later that day on the steps of the Supreme Court, which is hearing arguments on the health-care law, Santorum argued that Romney is “uniquely disqualified” to challenge the individual mandate, a core legislative component.

“He defends Obamacare at the state level,” Santorum said, referencing Romney’s health-care reforms in Massachusetts, which include a similar provision. “It just doesn’t wash and it won’t wash in the general election.”

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Santorum’s barbs are part of a daily effort by his advisers to link Romney to the president’s controversial law. Beyond Santorum’s public remarks, they have issued a flurry of press releases and videos.

The theme of the dispatches has been consistent. “Romney admits Romneycare = Obamacare,” screams one headline. Another e-mail calls Romney’s program a “heavyweight burden” on the Bay State economy.

“This is a campaign within the campaign,” says Alice Stewart, a top Santorum staffer. Santorum, she says, may lack Romney’s organization and finances, but if he can convince conservatives on this point, he could surge.

“It is the mega-issue,” Santorum told reporters at Monday’s breakfast. GOP leaders, he complained, are willfully ignoring Romney’s vulnerability. “It’s Wizard of Oz time,” he said. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

Santorum also played down his chances of winning the Wisconsin primary, which will be held on April 3, and barely discussed the late-April primary in his home state, Pennsylvania. He insists that the outcome of those contests, while important, will not dictate whether he will carry on.

Moving forward, Santorum’s stated rationale is to save the GOP from settling for Romney. By hammering the former governor on health care between now and the August convention, he aims not only to weaken his chief competitor, but to alarm Republicans about the potential disaster ahead.



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