Arizona finally gets GOP candidates' attention

By David Espo

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 22 2012 5:22 a.m. MST

"I think the tea party would find it very interesting that Rick Santorum voted to raise the debt ceiling five times without getting compensating reductions in spending," Romney said, echoing the campaign ads his campaign and his allies are airing in Michigan.

Two thousand miles away, Santorum was cheered by a survey that showed a tighter-than-expected race in Arizona. He was repeatedly applauded during an appearance at a Lincoln Day luncheon held by the Maricopa County Republican Party.

"You can speak loudly on Tuesday that you want someone who's going to stand up and fight the insiders, fight the establishment, someone who has a track record of doing it," he said.

His reception was even better several hours later at a campaign rally.

Santorum "is just rock solid. He's sincere, honest," said Mary Muir, who said the rally was the first political event she has attended in 50 years.

Rich Kulok, 73, of Mesa, who also attended, said he was solidly for Santorum.

"I believe in the things he's saying," said Kulok, who worked in management and construction before retiring. "I'm dead set against abortion." He said Santorum "seems more genuine than the other guys."

"I think Romney will tell you anything you want to hear, depending on what city you're in," he said.

Gingrich has scarcely been a factor in either Michigan or Arizona, except indirectly.

His decision not to campaign in Michigan so far has allowed Santorum a chance to compete against Romney without also having to fend off a rival for the votes of conservatives.

Paul, though, has weighed in against Santorum.

He began running a new ad Tuesday that challenges Santorum's claim that he is a conservative on spending issues. It also notes the former senator voted to raise the debt limit five times, and says Santorum supported legislation that created a prescription drug benefit under Medicare.

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Associated Press writers Charles Babington and Kasie Hunt contributed to this story.

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