Nineteen debates later, it was finally Rick Santorum’s turn at center stage.
His prize: Fire from both sides.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney accused Santorum, the latest leader in national polls, of being a big spender who as a senator from Pennsylvania voted five times to raise the debt ceiling and to approve earmark spending. Texas Rep. Ron Paul called Santorum “a fake” and said he was running as a conservative after voting for big government programs like No Child Left Behind.

“While I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the ‘Bridge from Nowhere,’ ” Romney charged. The Romney campaign blasted out details in an e-mail headlined: “Santorum and earmarks: A love story.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Santorum responded, looking frustrated.