PUNTA GORDA, FLA. - GOP contender Rick Santorum does not begrudge Mitt Romney's recently revealed wealth, telling a Tea Party crowd here that he wishes he had also made a "gazillion dollars."
"People ask me, 'What do you think about Mitt Romney, you know, making a gazillion dollars last year?' Good for him, that's what I say, good for him. I wish I'd made some gazillion dollars last year. I'd be in a little better shape financing my own campaign," he said just hours after Romney released his much anticipated 2010 and 2011 tax returns.
Romney, who has faced pressure for weeks to release his returns, revealed he had made $42.5 million in the past two years. But he paid only 13.9 percent in taxes on the 2010 income, and the rate for his 2011 income is a projected 15.3%.
Addressing a crowd of about 300 people under a balmy Florida sun, Santorum did not wear his signature sweater vest and tried to get away from the persona that he is a buttoned-up Mr. Nice Guy.
Instead, Santorum insisted he could be "mean" and had earned a reputation as a "bomb thrower" during his two terms in the Senate.
"Thank you for thinking I'm such a nice guy," Santorum told a woman who asked if he was tough enough to "kick some butt" in Washington. "The attitude, it's so funny because when I was in Congress I was known as a bomb thrower. I was known as the guy that would come in and blow things up."
Asked to comment on Sen. Rand Paul's reported detention by the TSA before catching a flight to Washington, Santorum admitted he joked with Paul's father-candidate, Ron Paul, at Monday night's GOP debate.
Santorum said that rather than shaking Ron Paul's hand before the debate started, he instead played a joke, pretending to frisk him instead.
"You know, I said hello to Romney, and I said hello to Newt, and then I saw Ron Paul and I went over and I frisked him. And said I want to make sure I'm safe with you here, Ron, today…. We both had a big laugh at that," he said.