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Santorum ups Obama criticism

Surging candidate attacks president’s motives, values

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PHOENIX — Rick Santorum, surging in the Republican presidential sweepstakes, is making increasingly harsh remarks about President Obama, questioning not just the president's competence, but his motives and even his Christian values.

Rival Mitt Romney also is sharpening his anti-Obama rhetoric, saying Tuesday that the president governs with "a secular agenda" that hurts religious freedom. In general, however, the former Massachusetts governor has not seriously challenged Mr. Obama's motives, often saying the president is decent but inept.

But Mr. Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have intensified their claims that Mr. Obama's intentions are not always benign, ahead of Wednesday's GOP presidential debate and next week's primaries in Michigan and Arizona.

Mr. Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, who suddenly is threatening Mr. Romney in his native Michigan, said Mr. Obama cares only about power, not the "interests of people." He contends that "Obamacare," the health care overhaul Mr. Obama enacted, includes a "hidden message" about the president's disregard for impaired fetuses, which might be aborted.

Mr. Santorum at one point even seemed to compare the president to Adolf Hitler, although he denies trying to do so.

Mr. Santorum's remarks have gotten only scattered attention because he weaves them into long, sometimes rambling speeches. Mr. Romney's team is monitoring his rival's comments, privately suggesting they could hurt him in a general election.

The Obama campaign has brushed off the remarks, preferring to keep the focus on the improving U.S. economy.

"These ugly and misleading attacks have no place in the campaign, and they provide a very clear contrast with what President Obama is talking about: how to restore economic security for the middle class and create jobs," said Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman.

Mr. Gingrich, campaigning Monday in Oklahoma, called Mr. Obama "the most dangerous president in modern American history." Mr. Gingrich said the administration's "willful dishonesty" about alleged terrorists' motives threatens the country.

Some of Mr. Santorum's remarks echo attacks on Mr. Obama during the 2008 presidential race, when critics portrayed him as an unknown quantity with hidden motives and questionable allegiance to the United States. Mr. Santorum said that year in a speech at a Florida college that America faced a "spiritual war" and that the "father of lies" — Satan — "has set his sights on America."

More recent examples include:

• Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, Mr. Santorum criticized Mr. Obama for requiring health insurance plans to cover prenatal testing. He said such tests lead to "more abortions and, therefore, less care that has to be done, because we cull the ranks of the disabled in our society."

• On Monday in Steubenville, Ohio, Mr. Santorum said Mr. Obama "talks about how he's going to help manufacturing after he systematically destroyed it. ... He's worried about the interest of power so he can dictate to people what he believes is best."

• And speaking Sunday at First Redeemer Church in Cumming, Ga., Mr. Santorum said people who shrug off troubling signs about Mr. Obama are like those Americans who ignored the growing fascist menace in Europe before World War II.

"Why? Because we're a hopeful people," Mr. Santorum said. "We think, 'Well, you know, he'll get better. You know, he's a nice guy. I mean, it won't be near as bad as what we think. This will be OK.' Oh yeah, maybe he's not the best guy, and after a while, you found out things about this guy over in Europe, and he's not so good of a guy after all."

Asked by a reporter later if he was comparing Mr. Obama to Hitler, Mr. Santorum said, "No, of course not."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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