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Gingrich, vowing 'national' campaign, jabs at Santorum

Pledging to run a "national campaign" and denying he faces a do-or-die "Alamo" moment in Texas -- whose April 3 primary will award 155 delegates -- Newt Gingrich accused Rick Santorum of being a "Big Labor Republican" who has attacked the Tea Party and amassed a voting record conservatives will find "dubious."

In an impromptu interview at the Fox News Washington bureau, the former House speaker claimed Santorum's clean sweep of this week's nominating contests in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri shows that the Republican presidential primary is a "wide open race" he can still win. Asked if Santorum's ascendancy deprives Gingrich's own candidacy of oxygen, Gingrich maintained that he appeals to a wider and deeper constituency in the GOP electorate.

"Among Tea Party members, I have a much stronger following than Rick does. And they understand that it's principled and that I am supportive of the Tea Parties; I am not attacking them, as he did," Gingrich said. 

His campaign cited a 2011 video, now circulating online, in which Santorum can be heard telling an audience in Harrisburg he has "real concerns" about efforts by the Tea Party to refashion conservatism, and added that he planned to "vocally and publicly oppose it."

But Gingrich didn't stop there. While calling Santorum a friend, he assailed the latter's voting record in the House and Senate. 

"He was a Big Labor Republican who consistently voted with the unions," Gingrich told Fox News. "Ironically, while he says that I'm not a real conservative, I had a 90 percent American Conservative Union rating. His is dramatically lower. So he actually was more liberal, according to the American Conservative Union, than I am. But that's part of being a Big Labor Republican. I don't think you can run trying to get the support of the AFL-CIO in a place like Pennsylvania and not have votes that most conservatives would look at very dubiously."

Santorum's lifetime rating from the ACU is actually 88.1 percent, not much lower than Gingrich's -- it was 96 for Santorum's final year in Congress.

The former House speaker also lumped Santorum together with the delegate front-runner in the primary, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, claiming both would tinker around the margins of the Beltway culture while Gingrich would seek to wreak bold change upon it.

"I'm offering much bigger solutions on Social Security, on job creation, on getting back to a balanced budget, on how we compete in science and technology with China and Russia," he said. "People can say, 'I want a Newt Gingrich kind of big-solution approach, where I know we're going to actually solve the problems, rather than the timidity that both Santorum and Romney represent.' I mean, both of them have much tinier and more cautious approaches to this than I do."

Santorum campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley rejected Gingrich's criticisms, most acutely the notion that Santorum was a foe of the Tea Party. "Rick Santorum has been praised for being a Tea Party candidate when there was no Tea Party, and has been a staunch supporter," Gidley told Fox News in an email statement. "The reason the Tea Party exists is because of government health care mandates, job-crushing cap-and-tax legislation, the big bank bail outs, and forms of amnesty. Those issues were all supported by Newt Gingrich, Nancy Pelosi, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama."

James Rosen joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1999. He currently serves as the chief Washington correspondent and hosts the online show "The Foxhole."

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