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Does Santorum Really Not Care About the Unemployed?

7:15 PM, Mar 19, 2012 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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This afternoon, Mitt Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul emailed a brief, edited video of rival Rick Santorum speaking in Moline, Illinois today. "I don't care what the unemployment rate's going to be," Santorum says in the five-second clip. "Doesn't matter to me."

Saul added her thoughts: 

Wow. Sen. Santorum may not care about the unemployment rate in this country or the nearly 24 million Americans struggling for work, but Mitt Romney does and is running to get people back to work. If anyone needed evidence that Rick Santorum is an economic lightweight, they needn’t look any further than his various statements today. We're not going to turn around this economy by replacing one former senator with zero job-creating experience with another senator with zero job-creating experience. He has proven it once again.

Rebecca Kaplan at National Journal, however, provides a bit more context for the Santorum quotation. "We need a candidate who's going to be a fighter for freedom. Who’s going to get up and make that the central theme in this race because it is the central theme in this race," Santorum said, according to Kaplan's report. "I don't care what the unemployment rate's going to be. Doesn't matter to me. My campaign doesn't hinge on unemployment rates and growth rates. It's something more foundational that's going on."

Kaplan also has Santorum's response to the Romney campaign:

Santorum sought to clarify his comments to reporters after the event by saying that freedom supersedes the unemployment issue, and he tried to paint Romney’s economic plan as a nonconservative approach.

“Of course I care about the unemployment rate. I want the unemployment rate to go down, but I’m saying, my candidacy doesn’t hinge on whether the unemployment rate goes up and down,” he said. “Our candidacy’s about something that transcends that; its about freedom, its not about, you know, Governor Romney’s idea that he’s going to fix the economy which is something that, of course, we as Republicans don’t believe that presidents fix the economy; we believe that we try to do things to create an atmosphere for the economy to fix itself.”

Moreover, this isn't exactly breaking news. Santorum has said this often throughout the campaign--that the election isn't about the economy as much as it is about the threat to American freedom posed by Obamacare--whereas Romney has argued it's primarily about the economy and jobs. Those distinct readings of the election say a lot about how both Santorum and Romney view themselves and their potential presidencies.

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