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Santorum returns to Ohio to stump for former rival Romney

By Stephanie Warsmith, Akron Beacon Journal –

AKRON, Ohio — Former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum told an Akron crowd his enthusiasm for Mitt Romney has grown in recent weeks because of actions each party’s presumptive nominee has taken.

Santorum, who billed himself as the “true conservative” during the primary campaign, said he was buoyed by Romney’s selection of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate. And, he said, President Barack Obama has made Romney more appealing with recent actions on welfare and immigration, which he says overstep his authority.

“If he can give a speech and change law, we no longer live in a republic,” Santorum told a crowd of about 200 party faithful at Tangier restaurant, standing with a banner that read “Ohio Stands With Mitt” behind him.

“You can’t want a president who has the kind of authority to dictate law based on how he feels that day.”

This was Santorum’s first trip to the Akron area since he lost the March primary in Ohio to Romney. Before the primary, Santorum spoke at the Summit County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day dinner, drawing a record crowd, and also held a rally in Cuyahoga Falls on the eve of that election.

Before his rally in Akron, Santorum stumped for Romney in Cleveland, where he attended a Catholic Mass and helped serve gelato at an Italian bakery. He drew a receptive response from the crowd.

Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, also was welcomed back to Akron, where numerous people in the crowd had turned out for his previous Summit County stops.

Several GOP elected officials and candidates attended the event, including U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci of Ohio, with party leaders urging attendees to support the entire ticket.

Bryan Williams, executive vice chairman of the Summit County Republican Party’s executive committee and an alternate delegate for Santorum, introduced him, saying he “is who he is” and he’s now fighting for Romney.

Santorum told the crowd that people talk about reforming education with the three Rs — reading, writing and arithmetic. He said Ohioans need to support three Rs in the election: “Romney, Ryan and Renacci.” This drew cheers from the audience.

“This is the county that can decide the election,” Santorum said. “Ohio is where it’s at.”

Santorum said Romney wants to cut Medicare costs by infusing competition and giving people more coverage choices.

“President Obama doesn’t believe in choices,” he said. “He wants all that power.”

Santorum said Obama is “assailing freedom of religion” with the federal health care law that requires coverage of contraceptive services that go against some peoples’ religious beliefs.

“He is forcing business people to do things against their conscience,” he said. “If they’re Catholic, they will have to go to confession after they comply with a government program.

“Is that what you want your government to do?” he asked.

“No!” the crowd responded.

Santorum urged the audience to volunteer for the Romney campaign, chiding them because very few raised their hands when Williams asked who had helped out so far.

In an interview before the Akron event, Santorum said he asked to return to Ohio because it’s such a “critical state.” He thinks Ryan’s ties to Ohio — he spoke Wednesday at Miami University, where he got his undergraduate degree — will help the campaign.

Ryan will have a rally Thursday morning at Walsh University in North Canton.

“I think he was a good pick for the upper Midwest,” Santorum said.

Santorum thinks Romney has gotten stronger in defining his vision and stances on issues.

“Early on, you weren’t sure what he wanted to do,” he said. “The more he can do that, the better off he will be.”

Summit County Council members Tamela Lee and Sandra Kurt, both Democrats, got into the Santorum event, but then said they were escorted out. They stood near the entrance to Tangier, talking up Obama to departing media members.

Several of those who attended the event were former Santorum supporters who are now backing Romney.

“I think it’s important we unify,” said Rachel Manies of Broadview Heights, who brought along her 7-year-old daughter, Cecelia, to meet Santorum. “I’m glad Senator Santorum came today.”

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