Nightly News | February 20, 2012
>>> good evening. it's become part of this election cycle. we have all watched as multiple candidates have risen to that front-runner status in the gop race. that always means bigger crowds, more money, more media attention and more scrutiny. for rick santorum who right now is receiving all of that coming off victories in three of the last four contests this was a weekend of wide-ranging remarks followed by some damage control and clarification. after a series of controversial comments on the president, on public schools and on prenatal testing it was a weekend that left some wondering what was senator santorum trying to say. as the gop race enters yet another crucial phase it's where we begin on this holiday monday night with nbc's ron mott on the trail in columbus, ohio. ron , good evening.
>> reporter: hey, brian. good evening to you. over the past two days rick santorum has gotten a lot of attention for things he's said on the campaign trail. his every word, his every sentence and what they all mean are now getting a closering loochlt -- closer look. [ applause ]
>> reporter: for rick santorum his recent front-runner status is forcing him to backtrack and explain some rhetoric on the president's energy philosophy for example.
>> it's about some phony ideal, some phony theology.
>> reporter: was the religious-sounding attack a swipe at mr. obama's faith?
>> i was talking about the radical environmentalists.
>>> on prenatal testing .
>> a lot of prenatal tests are done to identify deformities in utero and the customary procedure is to encourage abortions.
>> reporter: today he stood firm.
>> 90% of down's syndrome children in this country are aborted.
>> reporter: on publically led education.
>> the idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools is anachronistic.
>> reporter: was he condemning the public school system in favor of home schooling as the santorums do?
>> parents educated their children because it is their responsibility to educate their children.
>> reporter: since surging in the polls in states including michigan, rick santorum plays to bigger crowds and more scrutiny about his conservative perspective. his take on the president's energy agenda which some interpreted as a knock on the president's christianity was rebuked by the obama campaign .
>> it's time to get rid of the mindset in our politics that if we disagree, we have to question character and faith.
>> reporter: while leading mitt romney in a number of polls santorum lags behind with women voters though santorum 's message of social conservativism is resonating with the base.
>> he's a disciplined guy. he knows what he believes. that's key. he's authentic. that's what primary voters love to see.
>> reporter: meantime, governor romney was back on the stump today in cincinnati after a weekend off. rather than hitting santorum on the social debates, romney stuck to criticizing him on fiscal issues. nevertheless, mitt romney and the other two candidates in the race -- newt gingrich and ron paul -- may be asked to weigh in at wednesday's arizona debate. it is the only debate before next week in arizona and michigan and super tuesday on march 6. brian?
>> ron mott starting us off from columbus tonight. ron , thanks.