Frontrunner Envy? Mitt Romney Claws at Rick Santorum in Debate

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"You know, politics is a team sport, folks," Santorum said, as if addressing his dissenters in the audience, risking that he might be perceived as a Washington insider. "I admit the mistake, and I will not make that mistake again."

Ron Paul jumped at the chance to deem Santorum a creature of Washington.

"He has to go along to get along, and that's the way the team plays," Paul said. "I don't accept that form of government. ... I think the obligation of all of us should be the oath of office. ... It shouldn't be the oath to the party."

Though the debate also featured a handful of questions about social issues, the candidates were more in agreement as they derided the Obama administration for what they said were attacks on religion, and they called for cultural matters to be addressed.

Santorum, who has drawn scrutiny for some of his comments about religion, birth control and women serving in the military, rose to a crescendo as he said that, as president, he would bring attention to the growing number of babies being born out of wedlock.

He suggested that issue is "bigger" than fixing the economy.

"We can't have limited government, lower taxes ... cut spending," Santorum said. "No, everything's not going to be fine. There are bigger problems at stake in America. And someone's got to go out there. I will."

Romney, who said he agreed with Santorum over the need to address children born to unmarried parents, denied accusations that he forced Catholic hospitals to give morning-after pills to rape victims. He said as governor of Massachusetts, he made sure that the state's health care law included "provisions that make sure that something of that nature does not occur."

Along with each of the other candidates, Santorum was asked to again address the Pentagon's initiative to give women bigger roles in combat. Santorum, who drew criticism from liberals after saying that women fighting alongside men would raise "emotions," said that he still has "those concerns."

Romney, meanwhile, said that "women have the capacity to serve in our military" in most positions.

Romney did challenge Santorum on contraception, turning to the ex-senator as he recalled that he "saw a YouTube clip" of Santorum explaining why he voted for the Title X "family planning" program.

"You said this in a positive light," Romney charged.

Santorum was booed as he conceded that he did vote for bills including that provision, but he said he didn't support it.

"I've never supported it and, on an individual basis, voted against it," Santorum said.

But in 2006, Santorum said he supported birth control because "it is not the taking of human life," and people should have the choice to "do whatever you want to do."

Paul, who has made moves that helped Romney in recent days, joined the fight against Santorum, calling him a "fake" in the spirit of the Texas congressman's latest campaign ad portraying Santorum negatively.

"The record is so bad," Paul said.

Santorum rebutted Paul's criticism by citing a measure by The Weekly Standard, a conservative publication, that said he was the most fiscally conservative senator during the 12 years that he served.

Romney also faced a question about his conservative bona fides, an issue that he has confronted repeatedly during the campaign. As he addressed a gathering of conservative activists in Washington this month, Romney claimed he was "severely conservative," a label that some have questioned - including tonight's moderator, CNN's John King.

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