Shushannah Walshe and Amy Bingham report:
STEUBENVILLE, Ohio - As Rick Santorum makes his way toward a two-man race with Mitt Romney, he has ratcheted up his rhetoric, displaying an increasingly angrier tone on the stump, and painting a doomsday picture of this country that leaves his supporters with a terrifying image of the state of the nation.
The former Pennsylvania senator has almost completely pivoted the focus of his stump speech from his GOP rivals to President Obama.
And he's introduced a new metaphor that aims to reignite the terror Americans felt during World War II by comparing Republican primary voters to the "greatest generation" and today's failings of European financial systems to the crumbling of Europe's cities as Adolf Hitler gained power in the 1940s.
"Remember, the greatest generation for a year and a half, sat on the sidelines while Europe was under darkness, while our closest ally, Britain, was being bombed and leveled, while Japan was spreading its cancer all throughout Southeast Asia," Santorum ominously told a packed, enthusiastic crowd at the First Redeemer Church in Cummings, Ga., Sunday, before traveling back to Ohio to campaign here today.
The audience at the church interrupted Santorum at least four times with wild applause, loving the red meat he was throwing to the conservative crowd. "We're a hopeful people," he continued. "We think, well, you know it'll get better. After a while you find out some things about this guy over in Europe who's not so good of a guy after all. … Sometimes, sometimes it's not OK.
"It'll be harder for this generation to figure it out. There's no cataclysmic event," Santorum concluded.
While Santorum conceded that Obama's policies were not quite as horrific as Hitler's war in Europe, the rising GOP front-runner cautioned that the president is "fundamentally restructuring America."
Santorum, 53, has sharpened his rhetoric in the past week, targeting not rival Mitt Romney, but keeping his sights almost exclusively on Obama. His stump speech has always had a fearful tone at times, but his language has gotten more pointed and angrier in the past few days.
While all the GOP candidates have harsh tongues when it comes the president's policies, Santorum's criticism is often more scathing and personal.
He charged this weekend that the president with "trampling on a constitutional right" by requiring religious hospitals and institutions to provide co-pay-free contraception.
"It is imposing his ideology on a group of people expressing their theology, their moral code, and saying the government will force you to do what your faith says is gravely wrong," Santorum said.
He accused Obama Sunday of trying to "cull the ranks of the disabled" by requiring prenatal screenings, which Santorum says often lead to abortions, to be provided for free by insurance companies under Obama's health care law.
"Why? Because it saves money in health care. Why? Because free prenatal testing ends up in more abortions and therefore less care that has to be done," Santorum told a receptive crowd at the Ohio Christian Alliance in Columbus. "That too is part of 'Obamacare, 'another hidden message as to what President Obama thinks of those who are less able than the elites who want to govern our country."
Santorum said the medical community is cutting costs by refusing to treat or "minimally" treat children with disabilities.
"Let's take a child who is high-cost and who the world, particularly unfortunately the medical profession increasingly is looking at as, well, less utility, less value than others in society," he said in Ohio today. "It's happening now folks, it's happening now. This is a brave new world that we do not want to go down."
Santorum also blasted the president for maintaining "big-education bureaucracies" that are run by the federal government.
He said the federal and state governments' running public schools is "anachronistic," having stemmed from the industrialization of America.
"It goes back to the time of industrialization of America when people came off the farms, where they did home school or have the little neighborhood school, and into these big factories," Santorum said at the Columbus event Sunday. "So we built equal factories called public schools."
Santorum said the public school system has been a "failure" because it is designed to meet the needs of the state and the school, not the children.
"There's one thing for states to help fund public education, it's another to dictate and micromanage and create a one-size-fits-all education system," Santorum said Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation. "We are failing the American children and we are failing our society. We need some really dramatic changes and we're not getting that."
Despite his white-hot rhetoric, however, Santorum told a crowd of about 500 enthusiastic Ohioans today that people are looking for a nominee with a "positive message."
"Someone who doesn't think that politics is the equal of mud wrestling, but a higher calling, a calling to go out and paint a picture of how your lives here in Steubenville, how your lives here in Ohio and across this country are going to be impacted as a result of the leadership and the policies we put forward," Santorum said. "We've kept to that plan."
Amy Bingham reporting from Washington, D.C.