Santorum, Paul campaign out West as Florida votes

KRISTEN WYATT PHILIP ELLIOTT Associated Press Published:

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Dealt loses as expected in Florida, Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Ron Paul courted voters Tuesday in Western states that hold upcoming contests -- and made clear they're not bowing out.

"Republicans can do better. We can do better than the discussion and the dialogue that were going on in the state of Florida and where this campaign went downhill," Santorum said of GOP infighting that reached a fever pitch in recent days and yielded a win for Mitt Romney.

"What we've seen the last few weeks in Florida is not something that is going to help us win this election. Let's put those issues behind us and focus on the real issue, which is defeating Barack Obama," he told supporters in Las Vegas. "We're not going to do that by mudslinging."

In a separate appearance before results were official, Paul completely ignored Florida's primary as he spoke to more than 1,000 supporters in Fort Collins, many of them students at Colorado State University. Instead, the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman focused on his bedrock issues: cutting spending and upholding the Constitution.

"All we have to do is return to our constitutional form of government, and we can get out of this mess in no time," said Paul, garnering loud cheers for a blast at U.S. foreign policy. "We need to keep America safe, but not to be the policeman of the world."

Both candidates started the day in Colorado, which holds its caucuses on Feb. 7, and ended in Nevada, which holds caucuses Saturday.

"You're going to hear the race is over," Santorum told tea partyers in Las Vegas as early tallies started to be released in Florida. "But the race is just getting started. It's going to go back and forth."

Santorum painted Gingrich's loss to Romney as a disaster.

"In Florida, Newt Gingrich had his opportunity," coming out of South Carolina with the money and momentum," he said. "It didn't work. He became the issue."

The topsy-turvy Republican presidential race had crowned three winners in the first three states before polls opened Tuesday for a Florida race that had become a two-man contest between Romney and Gingrich. Conceding the costly, large and diverse state to them, Santorum and Paul headed West to try to lay the groundwork for upcoming contests.

"If you don't like the way the race is going right now, just wait a week or two," Santorum told a 300-person crowd at a golf club in the Denver suburb of Lone Tree at a morning appearance. "You have a chance to change this race. You have a chance to put up a conservative who can win."

Santorum raised more than $4 million since his surprise showing in Iowa, and aides said he had more than $1 million in the bank. He started spending some of that on television ads in Colorado and Nevada with an ad that likened Gingrich's views to Obama and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

"Who are these three cap and trade-loving, bailout-supporting, soft-on-immigration, big government-mandating politicians?" the announcer asks in the minute-long ad.

Yet in person, Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, said criticism of Romney's and Gingrich's wealth was misguided and only helps Democrats, but then turned caustic.

Two voters raised Gingrich's infidelity and one asked Santorum to make a campaign issue out of Gingrich's three marriages.

Santorum said Gingrich had been open about his past but allowed that "character matters."

"It's the issue of trust. Do you trust somebody who has done things that you question, whether it's in their personal life or professional life?" he asked.

But he also said people can learn from their mistakes.

"Our job is to forgive people if they ask for forgiveness," Santorum said. "I don't question the sincerity of his repentance."

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Wyatt reported from Colorado. Associated Press writers Oskar Garcia and Beth Fouhy contributed to this report.

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