Santorum a desperate candidate – Romney
Washington - Frontrunner Mitt Romney's team painted chief rival Rick Santorum on Monday as a desperate candidate "running on ego and emotion," as the campaigns dialled up their political rhetoric in the Republican White House race.
Romney picked up three key endorsements, including one from number three House Republican Kevin McCarthy, as the campaign moved north to the states of Wisconsin and Maryland after Santorum's win in the southern state of Louisiana.
But it was Santorum's outbursts and the sniping on Monday that dominated the race to see who will face President Barack Obama in the November election.
The Louisiana primary may have revived Santorum's campaign, but it made little difference in the all-important delegates race led by Romney, whose team sought to discredit Santorum's conservative credentials by hitting out at his heavy spending while in the US Senate.
They also blasted Santorum for losing his cool on Sunday after a campaign speech, when he used foul language in accusing a reporter of distorting his words.
"Senator Santorum really lost his personal discipline and self control," former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, a prominent Romney supporter, told reporters on a conference call.
"It's one thing to lose your temper at a New York Times reporter, it's another [to lack self control] on the international stage and even with congressional leaders" in Washington, he added.
Santorum had heated words for the reporter after a speech in which the former Pennsylvania senator had reportedly blasted Romney as "the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama".
When the reporter pressed him about the comments, Santorum insisted he was referring only to the matter of health care, and how the health care reform law Romney implemented while governor of Massachusetts made him incapable of being a strong candidate against Obama in November because it was so similar to the controversial reform laid out by the Democratic president.
"Quit distorting my words... It's bullshit," Santorum said as he flashed a fiery look, in video aired Monday on CBS News.
Santorum sought to brush off the incident, telling Fox News on Monday: "If you haven't cursed out a New York Times reporter during the presidential campaign, you aren't a real Republican."
When asked to comment on Santorum's outburst, Romney sought to portray himself as the eventual nominee.
"I'm not going to worry too much about what Rick is saying these days," he told CNN. "You know when you're falling further and further behind, you get a little more animated."
Santorum headed to Washington and the US Supreme Court on Monday, monitoring the historic arguments on the constitutionality of Obama's health care reform.
He lashed out at Romney for not being there - and for passing his own version of health care reform while he was governor of the left-leaning state of Massachusetts.
"Talk about desperate and pathetic, Mitt Romney can't run on his record," Santorum later told CNN.
"We have the whole world watching what's going on here in Washington, [and] Mitt Romney is 3 000 miles away" in California, Santorum said.
Santorum, a religious arch-conservative fervently against abortion and gay marriage, is seen by supporters as more authentic and personable than Romney, but Sununu insisted Santorum's hotheadedness showed he was "thrashing about" in a losing cause.
Ego and emotion
"Right now he's running on ego and emotion," Sununu said.
He and Romney's Wisconsin campaign co-chair Ted Kanavas pointed to what they described as Santorum's "liberal" spending while a senator, including voting five times to raise the debt ceiling.
"He spends money way too vigorously and we need to have some discipline," Kanavas said.
Santorum has emerged as the main threat to Romney who - despite having a commanding lead in the race to reach the magic number of 1 144 delegates needed for the nomination - has been unable to seal the deal.
Romney currently has an estimated 565 delegates, more than double Santorum's 256, according to website Real Clear Politics.
After Louisiana, the Republican race now turns to Wisconsin and Maryland on April 3.
Sununu said he hoped a Romney win in Wisconsin would "help remind [Santorum] that it's time to rally behind governor Romney as the nominee."
But Santorum - who has won 11 out of 34 nominating contests so far, largely on the back of strong support from the party's most conservative members - insisted on Monday he was still a viable contender and that "this race is in all likelihood going to go to the convention".