Santorum assails Romney’s health care stances
Says rival supported national mandate
STEUBENVILLE, OHIO | While Mitt Romney squeaked out a narrow victory in Ohio’s Republican primary, chief opponent Rick Santorum peeled away the scab and drew new blood over the former Massachusetts governor’s history on health care, resurrecting the chief obstacle between Mr. Romney and the nomination. Mr. Santorum attacked Mr. Romney on new revelations that the former governor supported an individual mandate not only in Massachusetts, but — at least in Mr. Santorum’s read of things — for Americans nationwide, just like President Obama’s health care law does.
Mr. Romney ended up winning six of the 10 states that held contests on Super Tuesday, including the major prize of Ohio, but the health care attack promises to loom big as the campaign turns to caucuses this weekend in Kansas and primaries next week in Mississippi and Alabama.
“I have never been for an individual mandate on the state or federal level,” Mr. Santorum said Tuesday at his election-night party in Ohio, hours before the state was called for Mr. Romney. “I have never passed a statewide government-run health
care system, but Gov. Romney did.”
The calendar in the next two weeks looks dangerous for Mr. Romney, with the two Southern states combined with a slate of caucuses, both features of races where his record has been mixed.
Later in March, Illinois holds its primary, which should be more friendly ground.
But Mr. Romney is once again the chief target, and the health care revelations of the past week will provide ammunition for his rivals.
Mr. Romney has contended that while he approved a mandate that all Massachusetts residents buy insurance, he didn’t think the federal government should impose that nationally.
Such a federal mandate is the chief component of Mr. Obama’s national law — which most Republicans, and all four Republican presidential candidates, say should be repealed.
In the past week, however, Mr. Santorum has highlighted a television appearance and an op-ed column by Mr. Romney, both of which had been previously overlooked, that suggested he supported a national mandate.
In the television appearance he spoke favorably of a bill sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, and then-sen. Robert F. Bennett, Utah Republican, that included such a mandate. In the USA Today column, he urged Mr. Obama to use Massachusetts as a model for a national plan.
Talk-show host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, said the revelations mean Mr. Romney “lied” when he said he supported a mandate only in Massachusetts but not nationwide.
Mr. Santorum, fellow candidate Newt Gingrich and their allies have spent months warning that Mr. Romney would have a tougher time drawing distinctions with Mr. Obama in the general election, and now they accuse Mr. Romney of obscuring his support for a national mandate.
“It is one thing to defend a mandated, topdown government-run health care program that you imposed on the people of your state, and it is another thing to recommend and encourage the president of the United States to impose the same thing on the America people,” Mr. Santorum said.
“And it’s another thing yet to go out and tell the American people that you didn’t do it. We need a person running against President Obama who is right on the issues and truthful with the American public,” he concluded in Tuesday night’s speech.
The Romney camp counters that their boss always has favored a state’s rights approach and that Mr. Santorum’s attack shows desperation as the ex-governor rattles off victory after victory, extending his lead in the delegate count.
In the debates, Mr. Romney has said Massachusetts was a special circumstance and has denied believing that a national mandate is the correct policy. He draws applause from supporters on the campaign trail when he vows to repeal Mr. Obama’s law.
But it is clear that other voters are still wrestling with the topic, as evidenced by a woman who asked him at town hall in Youngstown, Ohio, this week to clarify for her how his plan fits under the conservative umbrella and the president’s does not.
Charles R. Siphan, chairman of the political science department at the University of Michigan, said the Romney defense clearly has resonated with some conservatives, but not all of them.
“It’s a hard argument for Romney to make, and it’s not clear that it has ended up being convincing or that it has helped him,” Mr. Siphan said, before explaining that polls show the public — especially conservatives — have little appetite for an individual mandate.
“Frankly, I’m surprised that Romney’s opponents haven’t brought this issue up more often and more forcefully, as it seems to be a clear winner for them,” he said.
Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine said the health care system Mr. Romney embraced in the Bay State is a primary reason he withdrew his support from him last month and put it behind Mr. Santorum.
The ex-governor’s record, Mr. Dewine warned, will act as “ball and chain around his neck” in a general election by diminishing the amount of grass-roots excitement and energy behind his candidacy.
“For us to win, we have to have a lot of the people I am seeing coming to the Santorum rallies,” he said. “These are pro-lifers, these are tea partyers, these are home-schoolers — these are the people I saw in the last successful Bush campaign when we went to all the call centers and you had home schoolers with five or six kids making phone calls. You are not going to see that for Romney. That isn’t going to happen. I will be for him if he is the nominee, but you are not going to see that energy.”
Some of the Santorum supporters gathered here echoed a similar sentiment, adding that Mr. Romney has yet to earn their complete trust.
“I don’t know what he would do in the future because of his past,” said Amanda Batalune, 31, a pharmacist from Steubenville. “Like Dr. Phil says, ‘Your past behavior is a predictor of your future behavior.’ I believe that with him, so I don’t know. He could have changed his mind, but I just don’t trust him the way I trust Rick Santorum.”
Donald and Kelly Goldsborough, husband and wife from Delaware, said they drove 497 miles to attend Mr. Santorum’s victory party — carrying a massive wooden sign that filled the bed of their full-size truck that reads: “Vote Santorum To Repeal Obamacare.”
“I almost feel like I’m not sure I would sit home or not, and I have never thought of throwing my vote away,” Mr. Goldsborough said. “I suppose when push comes to shove, I would vote for Romney, but I am just not enthusiastic about him.”
Rick Santorum, campaigning with his daughter Elizabeth (right) in Lenexa, Kan., wasted no time using the issue of health care mandates against Mitt Romney, his toughest rival in the Republican presidential nominating contests.