Santorum Vs. Romney: A Supreme Court Sideshow

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks outside the Supreme Court on Monday. i i

hide captionRepublican presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks outside the Supreme Court on Monday.

John Rose/NPR
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks outside the Supreme Court on Monday.

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks outside the Supreme Court on Monday.

John Rose/NPR

With the highest-profile oral arguments since Bush v. Gore eclipsing coverage of the Republican presidential race, Rick Santorum on Monday brought his case against Mitt Romney to the epicenter of all the attention — the U.S. Supreme Court.

Its grounds, anyway, which were swarming with reporters and news cameras as the court began three days of arguments on the constitutionality of President Obama's new federal health care law.

For Santorum, it may have seemed the perfect venue to stress his argument that Romney is singularly incapable of taking advantage of the national political divide over the issue.

"This is the most important issue in this election," Santorum said of the health care law and its fate. "It's one that encapsulates all the issues that are at stake in this very critical election in our country's history.

"And there's only one candidate who has the chance of winning the Republican nomination who can make this the central issue that will be a winning issue for us to win the presidency back," said Santorum. "Unfortunately, the worst person to make that case is Mitt Romney."

Santorum argues that the Republican front-runner is unable to robustly challenge Obama on the health care law because he championed state-level health-care-for-all legislation as Massachusetts governor. Obama has said the Massachusetts law inspired aspects of the national legislation.

At least once Monday, as Santorum spoke amid the din of the day's main events at the high court, the former Pennsylvania senator seemed to refer to the national health care law as "Robamacare" — a twist on his usual "Obamneycare" construction.

Romney has rejected direct comparisons between the national health care law and his Massachusetts plan and has called for repeal of the national law now the focus of the Supreme Court review.

Romney was campaigning in California on Monday. His campaign announced the endorsements of Sen. Mike Lee of Utah; Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the third highest-ranking House Republican; and American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas.

A Romney spokeswoman said Santorum is "becoming increasingly shrill as his campaign hopes fade," the New York Times reported.

Santorum routed Romney in Saturday's Louisiana primary but remains far behind where it counts most, in the race for delegates to the Republican National Convention.

There are no primaries or caucuses this week.

Next up for the Republicans are April 3 contests in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia. But as in neighboring Virginia, Santorum failed to get on the D.C. ballot and will be ineligible for its 16 delegates.

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