Santorum: Romney ‘Worst Republican’ to Face Obama; Picks Fight With Press

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  March 26, 2012 at 9:21 AM EST

Rick Santorum; photo by Mark Hirsch/Getty Images

Rick Santorum poses for a photo with a supporter in Fond du Lac, Wis. Photo by Mark Hirsch/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

As the delegate math got even tougher for Rick Santorum, the GOP presidential contender appeared to pick a fight Sunday with a new rival: the press.

During an evening rally in Racine, Wis., Santorum called on a crowd of supporters to reject former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. “Pick any other Republican in the country. He is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama,” Santorum said.

When New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny asked the former Pennsylvania senator for clarification after the event, it prompted this fiery retort:

“On the issue of health care. That’s what I was talking about, and I was very clear about talking about that. OK? … Come on, guys, don’t do this. I mean, you guys are incredible. I was talking about Obamacare, and he is the worst because he was the author of Romneycare,” Santorum said.

In a video aired by CBS News on Monday morning, Santorum goes on to tell reporters to “stop lying” and cuts off Zeleny during a follow-up question, saying, “quit distorting my words,” and adding, “If I see it, it’s bull.”

“What are you guys in the business of doing — reporting the truth — or are you going to try and spin and make news?” an agitated Santorum then asks. “Stop it.”

The Santorum campaign attempted to make hay out of the encounter in a fundraising plea emailed to supporters Sunday asking for a contribution of $30, the price of a New York Times subscription.

“Earlier today, while campaigning in Wisconsin, I criticized Romney and Obama for their outrageous healthcare legislation. Predictably, I was aggressively attacked by a New York Times reporter all too ready to defend the two of them, and all too ready to distort my words,” Santorum said in the fundraising message.

“As you already know the New York Times has plenty of ink, and Romney’s campaign, heavily financed by Washington lobbyists, has plenty of money. But there is one thing they don’t have, the fighting spirit of thousands of people just like you who know our freedoms and values are under siege, and now is the time to fight back.”

Zeleny, of course, famously drew a scolding from Mr. Obama during the 2008 campaign for asking if Bill Clinton had gotten in the candidate’s head. The Democrat said the question was a “cheap stunt.”

BuzzFeed used the dust-up as an opportunity to post four videos of Santorum losing his cool over the course of his political career.

Santorum’s 49 percent to 27 percent victory over Romney in Louisiana on Saturday was a nice moral boost for the candidate, but as NewsHour politics desk assistant Ryan Brooks wrote, there were only 20 delegates at stake.

As you can see in our Vote 2012 Map Center, Santorum won every single county with the exception of Orleans Parish, which Romney captured by about 1,200 votes.

RALLYING AROUND ROMNEY

Politico’s Jonathan Martin writes Monday that the Republican industrial complex is resigning itself to Romney’s insurmountable lead. He compares it to the Democrats’ 1992 nomination battle.

Martin writes:

Romney backers, long past ready to bring down the curtain on a primary that has taken a toll on their candidate’s war chest and favorable ratings, are less charitable about the process their intra-party rivals are going through now.

“When you cycle up to the front-runner position for a few days it acts like steroids on the ego,” former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, a leading Romney surrogate, told POLITICO. “It takes a long time for the steroids to wind out of system. They’re going through a transition period of detox and the stuff has to work its way out of their system. How long it takes is a function of the size of the ego of the loser. It’s not more complicated than that.”

He also had the news first that Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., would endorse the front-runner Monday.

In 2008, Democrats in every single state and territory had the chance to hear from Hillary Clinton and Mr. Obama. Once the contest stretched into the spring, those states that had so rarely had an opportunity to influence national politics made clear they wanted the primary to continue.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., touched on that during an appearance on Fox News Sunday, noting that his home state’s April 3 primary is “pretty relevant.” He said the state last had a competitive GOP presidential race more than two decades ago.

As for Romney, Ryan told Chris Wallace, “I don’t know if he has it wrapped up now.” But he added, “The sooner we coalesce around a nominee the better off we’re going to be.” Ryan, who is neutral in the race, would not call on Santorum or Newt Gingrich to step aside. “I’ll let the people of this country decide,” he said.

HITTING THE RESET BUTTON

On Friday, Mark Shields and David Brooks talked about President Obama’s comments on Trayvon Martin, then turned to the GOP field. David suggested that Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom’s remark about an Etch A Sketch was no mistake at all, and that resetting the campaign to look toward the general election is exactly what Romney should be doing.

“It’s one of those gaffes, where you tell the truth, I was very heartened to hear him say that,” he said. “Because it suggests they really will restart the campaign, reset it, get some new theme in — which is what they need to do.”

David added:

The downside, obviously, is it plays into the key doubt people have about Romney, does he believe in anything? And there are certain images that get locked in people’s mind. For John Kerry, it was windsurfing. Once you give people what the literary critics call an objective correlative, an image, an actual image to symbolize doubts like the windsurfing or Michael Dukakis in the tank, if, for Mitt Romney, it’s Etch A Sketch, something that is easily erased, well, then gives people something concrete to hang their doubts on, and then it becomes sort of serious.

Mark also blasted Rep. Ryan’s budget proposal as “science fiction.”

“[P]olitically, as a document, it is a disaster for Republicans, and particularly for Mitt Romney, given his biographical problems,” Mark said.

Watch here or below.

In the Doubleheader with Hari Sreenivasan, the guys also weighed in on “Hunger Games” and “Mad Men.” Watch.

HEALTH CARE BONANZA

The NewsHour is your destination this week for thorough coverage and detailed analysis of the Supreme Court’s hearings on the health care reform law. Our team will post audio of the proceedings and courtroom sketches and will answer your questions about the election-year battle.

National Law Journal’s Marcia Coyle and Health Affairs’ Susan Dentzer will be our dynamic duo on air each evening.

Here’s a link to Marcia’s primer on Monday’s events.

NewsHour reporter-producer Jason Kane explores polls on how Americans view the law here.

Jason and Vanessa Dennis break it down by the numbers.

And it’s not just the presidential race that will feel the heat from the debate. Roll Call’s Joshua Miller identifies five House and Senate races where health care will matter this fall. They are in Missouri, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New York.

Details for participating in @newshour’s Tuesday 1 p.m. #HCRChat are here.

2012 LINE ITEMS

  • The Wall Street Journal’s Peter Nicholas and Colleen McCain Nelson on the under-the-radar campaign to convince unbound convention delegates.

  • Santorum has an intense new web video about the president winning a second term.

  • Sheryl Gay Stolberg delves into the complicated relationship Romney had with former Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy in Sunday’s New York Times.

  • CBS News reports that 18 percent of Louisiana Republican primary voters said the Etch A Sketch controversy was an important factor in their vote on Saturday. Seventy-three percent said it was not an important factor.

  • “Obama’s top political advisers have held serious discussions with leading Democrats about the upsides and downsides of coming out for gay marriage before the fall election,” Greg Sargent reports for the Washington Post, citing “a Democratic strategist who has discussed these matters directly with Obama’s campaign inner circle.”

  • The Los Angeles Times’ Matea Gold and Melanie Watson look at campaign spending so far and find Team Obama has invested in its ground game, leaving Romney with a lot of catching up to do.

  • The NewsHour proudly presents a slideshow featuring politicians with animals.

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • President Obama is in Seoul, South Korea, for the Nuclear Security Summit.

  • Mitt Romney holds a campaign event in San Diego at 12:40 p.m.

  • Newt Gingrich delivers remarks in Hockessin, Del., at 7 p.m.

  • Rick Santorum travels to Washington to protest the health care law outside the Supreme Court.

  • Texas Rep. Ron Paul has no public events scheduled.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers and @suddinengel.