Discuss as:

Santorum calls Romney a 'big government heavyweight'

2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum joins Morning Joe to discuss the Tuesday Illinois primary, his comments on contraception and the HHS mandate, U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, campaign organization issues, taking on Mitt Romney, and what it's really like running for president.

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Monday morning where he responded to Mitt Romney's assertions that Santorum is a "lightweight" when it comes to economic issues.  "If I am a lightweight, I agree he is a heavyweight, he is a big government heavyweight, that's what his record was."

Santorum listed the Massachusetts health care law, tax increases under Romney as governor of that state and his overall jobs record, saying, "if that's the kind of heavyweight that Mitt Romney thinks that we need, then we should probably just stick with Barack Obama."

Asked whether his campaign had gotten "off-message" with a debate over birth control, Santorum pushed back.  "The issue is not contraception, the issue is government-mandated health insurance and that to me is completely on message."  Santorum said he will continue to talk about the administration's initial decision to require religious organizations to provide birth control to employees as part of their health care plans. 

Pressed on comments he made last fall about his feelings that contraception is "wrong," Santorum replied:  "I was talking about my own personal faith and what I was saying is that the issue of out-of-wedlock births and what's going on with the destruction of the American family is something that I will talk about and have talked about in this campaign.  I wasn't talking about access to contraception, that wasn't the issue."  

Republicans have battled to make the contraception debate about religious liberty in the context of federal regulations that would force employers affiliated with religious institutions to offer coverage for contraception in their insurance policies -- even if that religion has moral objections to the use of contraception.

In that context, Santorum said, contraception "should" be part of the political debate.

"The only reason I would talk about this issue is, as I said, with respect to government mandates on people of faith," Santorum said. "That's why this issue continues to be talked about, and should be talked about -- in the context of the government forcing people of faith to do things against their religious beliefs."

Santorum fell further behind rival Mitt Romney in the race to the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination after Romney won all 20 of Puerto Rico's delegates in the territory's Sunday primary. Santorum's strategy for securing the nomination may hinge on blocking Romney from attaining the necessary delegates, and sparking a contested convention in August.

"What I've said is that I think it's going to be very difficult as this goes on for anybody to get to that magic number," Santorum said in a separate interview on CBS, adding that he thinks the odds of a contested convention are "increasing."