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Republican debate: Romney fights to win against surging Santorum

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While Santorum opposed the auto bailouts, he tried to exploit his rival's position by saying that unlike Romney, he took a consistent stand when he also opposed the federal bank bailouts after the economy collapsed.

"With respect to Governor Romney that was not the case, he supported the folks on Wall Street and bailed out Wall Street — was all for it — and when it came to the auto workers and the folks in Detroit, he said no," Santorum said. "That to me is not a principled consistent position."

Santorum, though, was called a "fake" conservative by Texas Rep. Ron Paul for voting for federal programs that he now says he wants to repeal. Santorum was booed by the audience for his explanation of why he voted several years ago for the massive federal education reform bill known as No Child Left Behind, even though he had opposed it.

"Look, politics is a team sport, folks," he said of the measure backed by Republican President George W. Bush and other Republicans.

The candidates fought energetically over health care. Santorum said that Romney signed the Massachusetts state law that was enacted during Romney's term as governor and that served as a model for Obama's historic health care reform, which all the Republican candidates — including Romney — have vowed to repeal.

The Massachusetts law, derided as "Romneycare" by his rivals, includes a requirement for individuals to purchase coverage that is similar to the one in Obama's federal law.

Romney tried to blame Santorum for encouraging more federal spending by voting five times while in Congress to raise the government's ability to borrow. Santorum retorted that when Romney was asked last year if he would support a pending debt-limit increase, "he said yes."

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