Santorum clarifies remark

Mitt Romney, in Metairie, La., went after Obama on the anniversary of the federal health-care law. STEVEN SENNE / AP
Mitt Romney, in Metairie, La., went after Obama on the anniversary of the federal health-care law. STEVEN SENNE / AP (Mitt Romney, in Metairie, La.,)

Retreating, he said he'd support the GOP nominee if it isn't him.

Posted: March 24, 2012

WEST MONROE, La. - Facing heightened pressure to revive his presidential bid, Rick Santorum was forced to explain another apparent misstep as he courted Louisiana voters Friday, the eve of a critical contest in a Republican nomination battle that increasingly favors Mitt Romney.

Santorum said he would support the eventual GOP nominee if it isn't him despite what he insisted were similarities between front-runner Romney and President Obama that make them indistinguishable on some issues. He caused an intraparty uproar earlier in the week after suggesting he'd prefer a second Obama term over a Romney presidency.

"I've said repeatedly and will continue to say, 'I'll vote for whoever the Republican nominee is and I will work for him,' " Santorum said as he retreated from his original comments less than 24 hours before Louisiana polls were set to open. "Barack Obama is a disaster, but we can't have someone who agrees with him on some of the biggest issues of the day."

The situation underscored Santorum's challenges ahead of the Louisiana primary, which he is favored to win. The former Pennsylvania senator has had success in the South, having won last week's contests in Alabama and Mississippi. Regardless of the outcome Saturday, Romney will have collected more delegates than his opponents combined as the race then turns to more favorable territory for him in the coming weeks.

Santorum's continued missteps are complicating a candidacy already struggling to overcome major financial and organizational deficiencies. Before losing this week's Illinois primary, Santorum hurt himself by declaring that neither the economy nor the nation's unemployment rate was his top concern.

"I think the biggest development of the last 24 hours was Sen. Santorum's remarkable mistake in suggesting that reelecting President Obama was acceptable under any circumstance," Republican contender Newt Gingrich said in Port Fourchon, La. "I just want to make very clear that I could not disagree with him more strongly."

As his GOP opponents fought among themselves, Romney went after Obama on the second anniversary of the president's landmark health-care law, previewing a key argument in a potential general election matchup.

Standing in front of signs that read, "Repeal & Replace ObamaCare," as he campaigned in Louisiana, Romney called the law an "an unfolding disaster for the American economy, a budget-busting entitlement, and a dramatic new federal intrusion into our lives."

In attacking the law days before Supreme Court arguments over its constitutionality, Romney also confronted an issue that has plagued him throughout the primary process. As Massachusetts governor, he signed a law that required everyone in his state to carry health insurance or pay a penalty. It's a state version of the national mandate that is the centerpiece of Obama's overhaul - an idea that conservatives oppose as government overreach.

Romney's attack on Obama's overhaul caught the attention of White House spokesman Jay Carney, who said Friday that Obama would "not shy away from the opportunity to debate" the bill.

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