JUDY WOODRUFF: Sparks were still flying today in the aftermath of the latest Republican presidential debate. The candidates went after each other as two key primaries drew near.
In Phoenix, Mitt Romney picked up where he left off at last night’s Arizona debate, charging that Rick Santorum compromised on conservative principles in his U.S. Senate days.
MITT ROMNEY (R): I didn’t expect what happened. What happened was we saw, in this case, Sen. Santorum explain most of the night why he did or voted for things he disagreed with.
And he talked about this as being taking one for the team. I wonder which team he was taking it for.
MITT ROMNEY: My team is the American people, not the insiders in Washington. And I will fight for the people of America, not special interests.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Santorum, meanwhile, released a new television ad in Michigan, using some of Romney’s past statements to question his conservative beliefs. Hours earlier, the two leading Republican contenders had repeatedly traded blows on the debate stage in Mesa, Arizona.
Santorum said Romney unfairly criticized him for supporting federal funding earmarks, when Romney had repeatedly lobbied for federal money himself.
RICK SANTORUM (R): He’s out there on television ads right now, unfortunately, attacking me for saying that I’m this great earmarker, when he not only asked for earmarks for the Salt Lake Olympics in the order of tens of millions of dollars, sought those earmarks and used them, and he did as the governor of Massachusetts, $300 million or $400 million. He said I’d be — something like, I would be foolish if I didn’t go out and try to get federal dollars.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But Romney fired back that Santorum picked the wrong projects to support.
MITT ROMNEY: In the history of the Olympic movement, the federal government has always provided the transportation and security. So we came to the federal government asking for help on transportation and security.
I was fighting for those things. Our Games were successful. But while I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the bridge to nowhere.
JUDY WOODRUFF: That ultimately led to this tense exchange between the two men over the earmarking process.
MITT ROMNEY: We’ve had thousands and thousands of earmarks. They are typically tagged on to — bundled on to other bills.
Okay. Go ahead, Mr. Speaker. Go ahead.
RICK SANTORUM: Wait a second. You’re entitled to your opinions, Mitt. You’re not entitled to. . .
MITT ROMNEY: I’ve heard that line before. I’ve heard that before, yes.
RICK SANTORUM: . . . misrepresent the facts, and you’re misrepresenting the facts. You don’t know what you’re taking about.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Santorum was also on the defensive over his support for No Child Left Behind, the education reform measure enacted under former President George W. Bush.
RICK SANTORUM: I have to admit, I voted for that. It was against the principles I believed in, but, you know, when you’re part of the team, sometimes you take one for the team, for the leader, and I made a mistake.
RICK SANTORUM: You know, politics is a team sport, folks. And sometimes you’ve got to rally together and do something.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Texas Congressman Ron Paul said that answer highlighted what needs to be changed in Washington.
REP. RON PAUL, R-Texas: Once again the senator was for — was for No Child Left Behind, but now he’s running for president, now he’s running to repeal No Child Left Behind once again. But — and he calls it a team sport. He has to go along to get along and that’s the way the team plays. But that’s what the problem is with Washington. That’s what’s been going on for so long.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JUDY WOODRUFF: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich seized the opportunity to accuse the press again of bias against conservatives on a question about birth control policy.
NEWT GINGRICH (R): But I just want to point out, you did not once in the 2008 campaign, not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide. Okay? So let’s be clear here.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
NEWT GINGRICH: If we’re going to have a debate about who the extremist is on these issues, it is President Obama who, as a state senator, voted to protect doctors who killed babies who survived the abortion. It is not the Republicans.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JUDY WOODRUFF: And Romney joined in after moderator John King of CNN pressed him to answer a question about what the American public knows about him.
MITT ROMNEY: I’m the only person in this race. . .
JOHN KING, moderator: Is there a misconception about you? The question is a misconception.
MITT ROMNEY: You know, you get to ask the questions you want. I get to give the answers I want.
JOHN KING: Fair enough.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All four candidates again defended their opposition to the bailouts of auto giants General Motors and Chrysler.
It was a point that President Obama’s reelection team highlighted in a new TV ad released today in Michigan ahead of its upcoming GOP primary.
NARRATOR: But when a million jobs were on the line, every Republican candidate turned their back, even said, “Let Detroit go bankrupt.” Not him.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Don’t bet against the American auto industry.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The president spent today in Florida, where he addressed rising gas prices and Republican criticism of his energy policy.
BARACK OBAMA: Only in politics do people root for bad news, do they greet bad news so enthusiastically. You pay more, they’re licking their chops.
And you can bet that since it’s an election year, they’re already dusting off their three-point plan for $2 gas. And I will save you the suspense. Step one is to drill, and step two is to drill and then step three is to keep drilling.
Well, the American people aren’t stupid. They know that’s not a plan, especially since we’re already drilling. That’s a bumper sticker.
JUDY WOODRUFF: For now, national polls show Santorum is leading the race to challenge Mr. Obama in November. He and the rest of the Republican field face their next test in Arizona and Michigan Tuesday.