COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Lashing out on two fronts, Rick Santorum on Saturday questioned President Barack Obama's Christian values and attacked rival Mitt Romney's Olympics leadership as he courted tea party activists and evangelical voters in Ohio, a key state in the nomination fight.
Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator known for his socially conservative views, said Obama's agenda is based on "some phony theology. Not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology." He later suggested that the president practices a different kind of Christianity.
"In the Christian church there are a lot of different stripes of Christianity," he said. "If the president says he's a Christian, he's a Christian."
The Obama campaign said the comments represent "the latest low in a Republican primary campaign that has been fueled by distortions, ugliness and searing pessimism and negativity."
In Ohio, a Super Tuesday prize, Santorum shifted decidedly to offense before friendly crowds. Trailing Romney in money and campaign resources, Santorum is depending on the tea party movement and religious groups to deliver a victory March 6.
Only Georgia will award more delegates (76) than Ohio (63) in the opening months of the GOP campaign. Ohio and Georgia are two of the 10 contests scheduled for March 6, a benchmark for the primary campaign that often decides who can continue to the next level.
Santorum has surged in recent opinion polls.
Obama's campaign team has responded by starting to consider the possibility that Santorum rather than Romney could be the Republican nominee. The organization has begun scrutinizing Santorum's past record and asked its Pennsylvania allies to look for information that might be used against Santorum in future ads and speeches.
Even as he criticized Obama, Santorum also went after one of Romney's most promoted achievements -- his leadership at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
"One of Mitt Romney's greatest accomplishments, one of the things he talks about most, is how he heroically showed up on the scene and bailed out and resolved the problems of the Salt Lake City Olympic Games," Santorum said.
"He heroically bailed out the Salt Lake City Olympic Games by heroically going to Congress and asking them for tens of millions of dollars to bail out the Salt Lake games -- in an earmark, in an earmark for the Salt Lake Olympic games."
The Romney campaign does not dispute that congressional earmarks helped save the games, but it noted that Santorum voted for those earmarks, among many others, when he was a senator.
"Sometimes when you shoot from the hip, you end up shooting yourself in the foot," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. "There is a pretty wide gulf between seeking money for post-9/11 security at the Olympics and seeking earmarks for polar bear exhibits at the Pittsburgh Zoo."
Santorum used a later appearance before the Ohio Christian Alliance to go after Romney for using his financial advantage "as a club to beat anyone who gets in his way."
But he saved his most pointed criticism for Obama, suggesting that the president's health care overhaul encouraged abortions by requiring insurance plans to cover prenatal screenings.
"It saves money in health care. Why? Because free pre-natal testing ends up in more abortions and therefore less care that has to be done because we cull the ranks of the disabled from our society," he said.
"That too is part of ObamaCare. Another hidden message as to what Obama thinks of those who are less able than the elites who want to govern our country."