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Santorum rides wave of support into key contests, as Romney tries to undercut his momentum

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Feb. 17, 2012: Rick Santorum, right, accompanied by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and DeWine's wife Fran, speaks outside of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (AP)

Rick Santorum is making a play for some of the biggest upcoming Republican presidential primary contests, as he rises in the polls and pockets key endorsements following his victories earlier this month. 

The former Pennsylvania senator on Friday snatched away an endorsement from top rival Mitt Romney, winning the support of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. DeWine called Santorum the "better candidate" and expressed concern that Romney's campaign had gone too negative. He said he once felt Santorum could not overcome Romney's financial advantage but has decided he was wrong. 

Several new polls show Santorum surging, and Fox News has learned the Santorum campaign is about to launch or expand ad buys statewide in both Michigan and Arizona, as well as important Super Tuesday states like Ohio and Georgia. The ad buys were described as being in the "strong six figures." Michigan and Arizona vote on Feb. 28 -- Super Tuesday, when 10 states hold contests, is March 6. 

The Santorum campaign claims it has raised more than $5 million in just the first 20 days of February, and added at least 70,000 new small-dollar donors. 

Speaking at the Ohio State House on Friday afternoon as DeWine formally shifted his allegiance from Romney to Santorum, the candidate predicted a "great victory on Super Tuesday." 

Recent polls show Santorum leading not only in Ohio but also in Romney's home state of Michigan. 

A new Rasmussen Reports poll, though, shows Romney holding onto the lead in Arizona. Nationally, Santorum is narrowly leading Romney, 34 percent to 30 percent, according to Gallup's tracking poll. The same poll shows Newt Gingrich at 14 percent and Ron Paul at 11 percent. 

Romney, who until recently was locked in a bitter contest against Gingrich, has started to focus his energy on Santorum. At a stop in Boise, Idaho, on Friday, Romney said voters who want a fiscal conservative, in his words, "can't vote for Rick Santorum." 

"I know that Senator Santorum is getting his moment in the spotlight now, which is a good thing. I hope people take a very close look at his record," Romney said. "Because he was in Congress for about 20 years, and during that time the size of the federal government doubled. ... And by the way, he voted to raise the debt ceiling five different times without compensating cuts. And he's a big proponent of earmarks." 

Romney went on to charge, "he's not a deficit hawk." 

Romney won last weekend's low-key Maine caucuses, as well as the symbolic straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference. But Santorum stole the spotlight days earlier with a sweep of contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. 

Both Romney's campaign and his allies are running attack ads against Santorum in Michigan, hoping to go two-for-two on Feb. 28. 

With Santorum's electoral success has come added media scrutiny. Most recently, Santorum was peppered with questions about comments by donor Foster Friess -- who suggested on national television Thursday that aspirin used to be an acceptable method for contraception. 

Both Friess and Santorum later described the remark as a bad joke. Friess apologized, and Santorum told Fox News the joke was "not particularly funny." Still, Santorum said he couldn't be responsible for what all his supporters say. 

Gingrich, meanwhile, is trying to regain steam after watching his numbers fall since his comeback win last month in South Carolina. He's campaigning in Georgia, the state he used to represent in Congress and which also votes on Super Tuesday. 

His biggest financial backer, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, also plans to donate another $10 million to a Super PAC that supports Gingrich, Fox News has learned. Adelson's family already had given $11 million to that group. 

The Romney Super PAC still has a commanding financial advantage over those of the other candidates. 

Paul was taking a slow-and-steady approach going into the weekend -- campaigning in Washington state, which holds its caucuses on March 3. Paul placed a close second to Romney in the Maine caucuses. 

Fox News' Carl Cameron and The Associated Press contributed to this report.