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In N.H., Santorum aims at his GOP rivals

Jeers Romney’s losses, Perry’s party switch

Former US senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania visited people enjoying a Greek festival in Manchester, N.H., yesterday. Former US senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania visited people enjoying a Greek festival in Manchester, N.H., yesterday. (Jim Cole/Associated Press)
By Shira Schoenberg
Globe Correspondent / September 19, 2011

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NASHUA, N.H. - Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum yesterday kept up his aggressive approach to his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination.

Speaking in front of a who’s who list of Republican activists and politicians at the Nashua Republican City Committee “Steak Out,’’ Santorum criticized Governor Rick Perry of Texas for switching parties and jabbed at former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and businessman Herman Cain for losing elections.

While Romney and Cain have been traveling across the country touting their business credentials and saying they are not “career politicians,’’ Santorum responded that that is not by choice.

“I love Mitt Romney and Herman Cain. They’re both great folks,’’ Santorum said. “But don’t go up and say, ‘I’m a businessman; I’m not a career politician.’ There’s a reason for that. They lost their races. If they hadn’t lost their races, they’d have been career politicians.’’

Romney served four years as Massachusetts governor, but lost a 1996 Senate race against Edward M. Kennedy. Cain ran for US Senate in Georgia in 2004 but lost the Republican primary. Santorum served in Congress from 1991 until he lost the 2006 election.

Santorum has recently reserved his sharpest critiques for Perry, who entered the race late but has vaulted to the top of the polls and is appealing to some of the most conservative voters who might otherwise be attracted to Santorum.

At a CNN-Tea Party debate in Florida, Santorum criticized Perry for an executive order he signed mandating that girls be vaccinated against HPV, or human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer. Perry said he acted to save lives, but made a mistake by not going through the Legislature. Santorum called the policy “big government run amok.’’

In an interview yesterday, Santorum raised that issue again. “It takes you five years to figure out that having the state having the authority over parents when it comes to the health of their children on something there’s no broad public health interest with respect to the communication of that disease, you get someone who fundamentally misunderstands the role of government,’’ he said.

Santorum has also hit Perry recently for providing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, for saying he supports gay marriage on a state level - a position Perry has backtracked from - and for a letter Perry wrote to Hillary Rodham Clinton, calling her attempts at health care reform “commendable.’’ (The purpose of the letter, written when Perry was Texas agriculture commissioner, was to urge Clinton not to forget rural communities.)

In burnishing his own conservative credentials, Santorum said yesterday he “didn’t change parties when it became easier to be a Republican to win in the state of Texas than it was a Democrat, didn’t change my policies when I left the state and decided I can now be a conservative.’’

Perry started his career in the Texas Legislature in 1984 as a Democrat, switching to the Republican Party five years later.

Perry’s son, 28-year-old Griffin Perry, spoke after Santorum and responded that Santorum did not give people the context for Rick Perry’s switch. “In the part of the country he lived in, there were only Democrats and conservative Democrats,’’ Griffin Perry said of his father. “There were no Republicans. He was as conservative as they came.’’

Santorum has been a regular visitor to New Hampshire and had six campaign events planned in a 24-hour period yesterday and today. Yet he is facing an uphill battle. He has remained at around 2 to 3 percent in the polls nationally, and around 1 percent in several New Hampshire polls.

State Representative Peter Silva, a Perry supporter Perry who attended the Nashua event, said he agrees with most of what Santorum says, but thinks the race is about who can beat Obama. “If my brother runs for president and does not show up in polls, he’s not going to win,’’ Silva said. Perry “gets into the race, he’s number one.’’

Similarly, state Senator Gary Lambert of Nashua said he is leaning toward supporting Romney because he believes Romney can appeal to Republicans, independents, and Democrats. Lambert called Santorum a “great guy.’’ “Unfortunately, he’s not getting traction,’’ Lambert said. “It’s evident he just doesn’t appeal to the broad spectrum that Romney does.’’

Several voters in Nashua said they were considering Santorum, citing his strong conservative record. “Rick has strong principles, and when they ask him questions in a debate he has very good answers,’’ said Karen Thoman, secretary of the Nashua Republican Committee, who is considering Santorum, Perry, Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, and Cain.

Shira Schoenberg can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shiraschoenberg.