BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Friday said Rick Santorum isn't a fiscal conservative, directly attacking his rival for the first time in more than a week.
"If you want a fiscal conservative, you can't vote for Rick Santorum, because he's not," Romney said at a campaign rally before a fundraiser. "I'm a fiscal conservative."
Romney has avoided criticizing the former Pennsylvania senator without prompting since Santorum won contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri on Feb. 8, though he did attack Santorum by name during a rally in Atlanta. His campaign and their super PAC allies are attacking Santorum in TV ads in Michigan.
Romney on Friday accused Santorum of expanding government during his two terms as a congressman and two terms as a senator.
"I hope that people take a very close look at his record because he was in Congress for about 20 years and during that time the size of the federal government doubled," Romney said.
"And, by the way, he voted to raise the debt ceiling five different times without compensating cuts," Romney added. He said Santorum voted for "billions of dollars in earmarks."
Romney and his backers are vastly outspending Santorum in next-up Michigan, Romney's home state. A loss there would be a major blow for Romney. He was born in Michigan and his father, George, served as governor there.
Romney planned fundraisers in Idaho before a trip to Salt Lake City, where he will speak at a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. He ran the Salt Lake Olympic Committee that put on the games.