2012 ELECTION

Santorum surges but scrutiny intensifies

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Rick Santorum stole a key endorsement from chief rival Mitt Romney on Friday as polls in Ohio and elsewhere suggest the former Pennsylvania senator has seized the momentum in the rollercoaster Republican presidential contest.

Amid the shift, however, are signs of stress within a disorganized Santorum campaign and intensifying questions about whether he can sustain a rise that has come and gone once before already. Romney's mammoth political machine - coupled with new scrutiny - will give Santorum little margin for error.

He was all smiles at the Ohio State House on Friday afternoon as state Attorney General Mike DeWine formally shifted his allegiance from Romney to Santorum, a decision that comes just 18 days before Ohio and nine other states host critical Super Tuesday contests.

"I just am very, very grateful that he would step forward in his fashion and lead a spark here in the state of Ohio that I think is going to deliver us a great victory on Super Tuesday," Santorum said.

But on what should have been an overwhelmingly positive day, Santorum could not escape a campaign misstep from the day before.

Foster Friess, the main donor behind Santorum's "super PAC," created a stir Thursday when he suggested on national television that aspirin used to be an acceptable method for contraception.

"The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly," he said.

Friess apologized Friday in a blog post. But Santorum was repeatedly forced to dissociate himself from his surrogate's comments, which he later described as "a bad joke."

Whether it was a joke or not, the comments drew unwanted attention to his own positions on contraception and women's issues. Santorum has said he wouldn't try to take away the birth control pill or condoms but that states should be free to ban them.

He told a Christian blog last year that as president he would warn the nation about "the dangers of contraception" and the permissive culture it encourages.

Speaking to reporters after the DeWine announcement, he said he and his wife, as Catholics, don't practice birth control.

"To be attacked on that, which I have been, that somehow or another that just because I personally believe this, that somehow now I'm going to be the uber-czar that's going to try to impose that on the rest of the country, it's absurd," he said. "It's absurd on its face, and it's absurd based on my record in the Congress."

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