PHOENIX — Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum belittled President Barack Obama on Tuesday as a rock star who won the White House four years ago, and dismissed fellow GOP rivals Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich as unable to provide solid conservative change for the nation.
"I'm someone who has a track record of standing up for the basic foundational pillars of our society, faith and family. I'm not a manager. I'm not a visionary," the former Pennsylvania senator said, using labels clearly meant to refer to Romney and Gingrich.
Santorum has been surging in public opinion polls in the past two weeks, and has come under attack from Romney as a Washington insider ill-equipped to make the changes needed in government.
In rebuttal, Santorum noted that Romney had run for Congress, but lost. He referred to himself as "an outsider when he was inside" Congress. "We exposed scandal after scandal," he said of the years immediately after he was elected to the House in 1990. Those events, he added, helped pave the way for the 1994 election sweep that gave the party power in both houses.
As for Obama, he said, "Back in 2008, the American people in a time of crisis went for a rock star that they believed could solve their problems."
Arizona shares a primary date of Feb. 28 with Michigan, but in terms of the race for the nomination, the similarities have long seemed to end there.
The state awards all 29 of its delegates to the winner of the popular vote, and polls have long made Romney an overwhelming favorite. As a result, apart from events surrounding a long-planned debate on Wednesday night, candidate appearances have been scarce and television commercials virtually non-existent.
A far more spirited race is unfolding in Michigan, where Romney's early leads in the polls have been erased by Santorum and candidates and their allies are advertising heavily on television, including with attack ads.
In addition the state's 30 delegates are awarded proportionally, giving candidates an incentive to compete even if they don't win the overall popular vote.
Even so, Santorum flew to Arizona to news that one poll showed the statewide race with Romney tightening, and his speech was well-received by an audience of several hundred Republicans at a Maricopa County Lincoln Day event.
"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.