STUART, Fla. - When President Obama delivers his State of the Union speech this evening, all Americans will hear is "a bunch of flowery rhetoric and all this stuff about all the things he has done," Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum said today.
A crowd of about 300, including a large group of students, gathered on a baseball field at a local Christian school booed at hearing the president's name, and the former Pennsylvania senator then listed the current problems in the union he thinks Americans won't hear about in the speech, scheduled for 9 p.m. ET.
"But what he has done? He has grown the tax burden on the American public through 'Obamacare,' through Dodd-Frank [Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act] and through other bills," Santorum said. "He has grown the size and scale of government to an unprecedented level.
"He has grown the deficit in this country to absolutely immoral lengths. He has increased the debt of this country to now the debt equals the entire size of the economy," he said. "He has lowered our bond rating. He has had double-digit unemployment for the first time in decades in this country.
"He has governed over a housing market that he has continued to allow to decline and decay because he won't use free market principles to turn it around," Santorum said. "This is a president who bailed out Wall Street, who is trying to take over the health care system, who has taken over the banking system, took over the student loan system, took over the auto companies."
He added to cheers: "This is the most activist, big government leftist president that has ever served in this country."
Standing in the heat on a sunny Florida day, Santorum abandoned the signature sweater vest he even wore Monday in 75 degree heat in central Florida, instead wearing a navy dress shirt and slacks.
He asked the audience what they thought of his performance Monday night at the NBC News/National Journal debate in Tampa. He said he felt good about how he performed, but did say he spent a lot of it looking at two of his opponents, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, go at it.
"I felt for a while, I have to tell you, that I should have been selling popcorn for a while, because, you know, the two candidates out there going at each other," Santorum said.
He made sure to tell the Florida voters, who started early voting this past weekend, that with him as the nominee they won't have to worry about "erratic" things said, a veiled hit at Gingrich or about "flip-flops," referring to Romney.
"We need to make this campaign against the president of the United States, about the worst president this country has ever seen, Barack Obama," Santorum said to cheers. "In order to do that then we have to have a candidate who is not going to be the issue in the campaign."
On the heels of Romney releasing his tax returns early today, Santorum said earlier in Okeechobee that he will release his own tax records soon and he previewed them to the South Florida audience, saying he doesn't have the wealth of his opponents and explaining why he decided to get into the race.
"I have to tell you it was not necessarily the thing that popped in my mind, gee, maybe I should go out with seven kids at home, we are homeschooling two, we have got a couple going to college - maybe I should go out and run for president," Santorum said. "When you see my tax return, you will note that I do not have the riches of others in this race."
The candidate repeatedly says he hasn't released his returns yet because he does them himself and he has to retrieve them from his home computer. He plans to travel back to Virginia, where he now lives, Wednesday for a fundraiser and said it is likely the returns will be released soon after that trip.
Santorum called Florida "the crown jewel," adding there is "no more important state politically" in the general election.
"You have a chance right here in Florida to speak loudly and boldly. You have an opportunity here in Florida," Santorum said. "I mean you guys are it. You are the crown jewel."
As he tried to walk off the baseball field, Santorum was swarmed by press, voters, and even some Ron Paul supporters who tried to question and heckle the candidate. He told reporters, "This race is a long way from being over" while supporters screamed, "Don't give up! Don't give up!"