Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum says President Barack Obama is beholden to “radical environmentalists” and has “a world view that elevates the earth above man.”
Santorum, who has emerged as the main challenger to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the Republican race, sought over the weekend to explain his statement that Obama practices “a different theology” that is “not a theology based on the Bible.”
Santorum said on the CBS “Face the Nation” program yesterday that he wasn’t questioning Obama’s Christian faith in claiming the president subscribes to a “phony theology,” the phrase he used in a speech to Tea Party activists in Ohio.
“I was talking about the radical environmentalists,” Santorum said. “That’s why I was talking about energy. This idea that man is here to serve the earth, as opposed to husband its resources and being good stewards of the earth, and I think that is a phony ideal.”
Santorum, who with his wife has home-schooled their children and who appeals to many social conservatives with his anti-abortion views, seeks to portray Romney as too moderate to excite core Republican voters and beat Obama in November.
The most recent Gallup tracking poll released yesterday showed 36 percent of registered Republicans saying they prefer Santorum while 28 percent back Romney. The poll is a five-day rolling average of support among registered Republicans.
On the campaign trail and on national television over the weekend, Santorum said he is the Republican best able to draw a clear contrast with the Democratic president.
“It’s about some phony ideal, some phony theology,” Santorum said of Obama in Ohio, which holds a Republican primary on March 6. “Not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology.”
Robert Gibbs, an Obama campaign adviser and former White House press secretary, said yesterday Santorum’s attack on the president was “destructive” and is undercutting turnout among Republican voters in the party’s nomination contest.
“I can’t help but think that those remarks are well over the line,” Gibbs said on ABC’s “This Week” program. “It’s wrong. It’s destructive.”
Santorum, on CBS, denied he was attacking Obama’s religious faith.
“I’ve repeatedly said that I believe the president’s Christian,” the former Pennsylvania senator said. “He says he’s a Christian, but I am talking about his world view and the way he approaches problems in this country. I think they’re different than how most people do in America.”
Santorum also said Obama has “a very bad record on the issue of abortion and children who are disabled in the womb.”
He criticized the idea of requiring insurance plans to cover amniocentesis, a prenatal test used to detect fetal maladies.
“A lot of prenatal tests are done to identify deformities in utero and the customary procedure is to encourage abortions,” Santorum said.
While many Republicans criticize federal government involvement in public education, Santorum took the argument a step further by saying state governments should play a lesser role.
“To the extent possible, with respect to mandates and designing curriculum and the like, I’d get the state government out,” Santorum said on CBS. “I think that the parent should be in charge, working with the local school district to try to design an educational environment for each child that optimizes their potential.”
While states help fund public schools, he said, “it’s another thing to dictate and micromanage and create a one-size- fits-all education system in states and certainly in the federal government, which is what President Obama’s trying to do.”
Obama this month freed 10 states from provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind education-testing law enacted by former President George W. Bush, a Republican.
Santorum, who has won four primaries and caucuses, is seeking to win the Feb. 28 primary in Michigan, Romney’s native state. Arizona also conducts a primary that day.
Senator John McCain said on ABC’s “This Week” yesterday he’s concerned that the tone of the Republican campaign is creating a negative view of the candidates.
“I’ve been in very tough campaigns,” the Arizona Republican said. “I don’t think I’ve seen one that was as personal and as characterized by so many attacks as these are.”
McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, endorsed Romney earlier this year.
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who won South Carolina’s Jan. 21 primary, is competing with Santorum for support among anti-Romney voters. Gingrich said yesterday his campaign would be “very badly weakened” if he doesn’t win his home state of Georgia’s primary, one of 11 contests taking place on March 6.
“I think it’s extraordinarily important to carry your home state,” Gingrich said on “Fox News Sunday.” He also said he wouldn’t end his candidacy if he loses Georgia, “given the chaos of this race.”
Asked how about the prospect of a late entry into the Republican race, Gingrich noted that it had happened in 1964 when “the establishment got terrified of Goldwater,” referring to Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona.
“They recruited Bill Scranton, the governor of Pennsylvania, at the last minute,” Gingrich said. Goldwater won the Republican Party’s nomination in San Francisco and lost the 1964 election to Democratic President Lyndon Johnson.
Ron Paul’s Criticism
U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, the fourth remaining Republican presidential contender, criticized Santorum -- who stresses his opposition to abortion and gay marriage -- for wanting to “control people’s social lives.”
A focus on social issues is “a losing position” for Republicans in their effort to defeat Obama, Paul said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.
Paul’s platform is based on his libertarian views of a limited federal government.
Asked if he and Romney had an informal “mutual truce” in which they avoid criticism on one another, Paul said ‘there’s not much, you know, on issues that we agree on,” and that he’s “uncomfortable” with the policies of all three of his Republican rivals.
Still, he said of Romney: “I think he certainly would have a more, you know, acceptable management style when you consider what I have seen and experienced from the other two candidates.”
--With assistance from Danielle Ivory in Washington and Mark Niquette in Columbus, Ohio. Editors: Ann Hughey, Don Frederick
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