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Santorum, Romney make pitch for social conservatives

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — With two days left before the Republican primaries in Arizona and Michigan, Rick Santorum delivered a defense of religion in public life on Sunday, appealing to social conservatives who have revived his presidential campaign.

In an escalation of the sometimes fiery language that he has used throughout the race, Santorum declared that colleges are no longer a "neutral setting" for people of faith and described how he had become sickened after reading John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech calling for the rigid separation of religion and politics.

"What kind of country do we live in that says only people of nonfaith can come into the public square and make their case?" he said on the ABC's This Week.

"That makes me throw up," Santorum said, adding later: "I don't believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute."

His rival Mitt Romney, who has struggled to persuade conservatives of his ideological commitment, made his own, subtler case to the same constituency on Sunday. He traveled to Florida to attend the Daytona 500 NASCAR race, long a favorite of conservative Republican voters. The race was postponed by rain until today.

Before his trip to Florida, Romney disputed what he said was the misconception that, as a former governor of Massachusetts, "I can't be conservative."

"But, you know, if you look at my record in Massachusetts," Romney said on Fox News Sunday, "I'm a solid conservative — a committed conservative with the kind of principles I think America needs." And he listed what he said were his accomplishments: cutting taxes, enforcing illegal immigration laws and opposing same-sex marriage.

The vigorous, last-minute overtures underscored how much the focus of the contest had swung from economic issues to social concerns, even in states that have suffered during the financial crisis as much as Michigan and Arizona have.

Polls show the candidates running roughly even in both states, as well as nationally, and the question for both of them is how Santorum's outreach to the religious right will resonate with voters, both in the contests this week and in the dozen on "Super Tuesday" on March 6.

The two leading Republicans are trading increasingly caustic and personal attacks as they as challenge the depth of the other's conservatism. Romney has portrayed Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, as a creature of Washington who was willing to compromise his beliefs to vote for the federal No Child Left Behind law and to back the 2004 re-election of Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a supporter of abortion rights.

Santorum has accused Romney of lacking an ideological backbone, pointing to his previous support of abortion rights and to the heath care plan he enacted in Massachusetts. "I don't understand what team he's on," Santorum said on the NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday. "It's not the same team that I'm on."

Santorum, Romney make pitch for social conservatives 02/26/12 [Last modified: Sunday, February 26, 2012 11:24pm]

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