- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Rick Santorum accused Mitt Romney on Monday of trying to cover up his prior support for a federal health care mandate, holding it up as proof that the former Massachusetts governor can’t be trusted when it comes to standing up for basic conservative tenets — and that he can.

“I think people are starting to realize that what you have with Gov. Romney is someone who is just simply not a genuine article, not someone you can trust on the issue of big government,” Mr. Santorum said in a conference call with reporters — a contention he also hammered on during campaign stops Monday.

The comments drew an immediate email response from the Romney camp, which also sent a spokesman to a Santorum rally here at a local American Legion lodge to counter the former Pennsylvania senator’s claims.

Gov. Romney has been consistent in opposing a federal mandate,” Ryan Williams, a campaign spokesman, told reporters minutes after Mr. Santorum spoke here. “He supports a state-by-state approach.”

Mr. Williams said Mr. Santorum lacks credibility on the issue because he endorsed Mr. Romney’s 2008 presidential bid and argued that Mr. Santorum is “flailing around” after watching Mr. Romney string together a series of wins in nomination contests.

Mr. Santorum has repeatedly made the case on the campaign trail that Mr. Romney’s support of a universal health care law in Massachusetts would hurt the party’s chances of capturing the White House in a general election and its effort to repeal the federal health care law that President Obama pushed through Congress and signed into law in 2010.

But in recent days, the Santorum camp has stepped up the criticism, highlighting statements Mr. Romney made in the past, including comments he made during a 2009 appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where he boasted that the Bay State’s health care system “got everybody health insurance” and expressed support for the Healthy Americans Act, also known as the Wyden-Bennett Act, which included the sort of individual mandate that Mr. Romney now says he opposes on the campaign trail.

Mr. Santorum continued his line of attack toward the tail of his roughly hour-long speech here on Monday, where he also informed the crowd that he is being outspent 12 to 1 in the run-up to the Ohio primary, one of the biggest prizes of the 10 Super Tuesday contests that could bring some clarity to the race.

“He advocated for a government-mandated health insurance benefit, something he has been denying throughout the course of the campaign, and now we have it all on tape,” Mr. Santorum said. “It is bad enough to be for a government-mandated health care system which he clearly was in Massachusetts, and then say, ‘I never recommended it to the president’ — but now we have two or three instances where he clearly did. It is one thing to be for it, it is another thing to not tell the truth.”