PHOENIX, Ariz. — Mitt Romney homed in on chief rival Rick Santorum on Thursday, just hours after the former Pennsylvania senator stumbled in explaining his support for unpopular positions within the conservative movement during a debate here.
During a subpar debate performance in Mesa Wednesday, Santorum defended his backing of No Child Left Behind — an education initiative that significantly broadened the oversight role of the federal government — as part of an effort to support Republican Party leaders.
“When you're part of the team, sometimes you take one for the team for the leader, and I made a mistake,” Santorum said in what was dubbed by most analysts as the gaffe of the night. “You know, politics is a team sport, folks. Sometimes you've got to rally together and do something."
Romney immediately seized on those remarks during his first campaign stop on Thursday.
“I wonder which team he was taking it for,” Romney said, addressing a conference of the Associated Builders and Contractors. “My team is the American people not the insiders in Washington.”
He then doubled down on that message, adding: “I’ve never seen a politician explain in so many ways why he voted against his principles.”
Romney is looking to halt Santorum’s momentum in both Arizona and Michigan, states where voters will head to the polls on Tuesday in what represents the largest single delegate haul in a given day this election cycle.
Romney will travel to his native state of Michigan later Thursday.