Rick Santorum accused Mitt Romney on Monday of trying to cover up his prior support for a federal health care mandate, holding it up as proof that the former Massachusetts governor can’t be trusted when it comes to standing up for basic conservative tenets — and that he can.

“I think people are starting to realize that what you have with Gov. Romney is someone who is just simply not a genuine article, not someone you can trust on the issue of big government,” Mr. Santorum said in a conference call with reporters — a contention he also hammered on during campaign stops Monday.

The comments drew an immediate email response from the Romney camp, which also sent a spokesman to a Santorum rally here at a local American Legion lodge to counter the former Pennsylvania senator’s claims.

“Gov. Romney has been consistent in opposing a federal mandate,” Ryan Williams, a campaign spokesman, told reporters minutes after Mr. Santorum spoke here. “He supports a state-by-state approach.”

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