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Feb 22, 2012 11:33 AM by Robert Hendin, Alicia Budich - CBS News

Santorum 'homophobic,' former Wyoming Senator says

WASHINGTON - Former Senator Alan Simpson had some choice words for his one time colleague, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.

"I know Santorum, I served with him," he said. "He is rigid and a homophobic. He believes that gays and lesbians, he mentioned in an interview in 2003, about bestiality, and gays and lesbians. I think that's disgusting," said Simpson.

The former three-term Senator from Wyoming has always been known for both his candor and his ability to work across party lines, said Republicans are hurting themselves by focusing on social issues.

"Here's a party that believes in government out of your life, the precious right of privacy and the right to be left alone. How then can they be the hypocrisy of fiddling around in these social issues? We won't have a prayer," he told Bob Schieffer in an interview for CBS News's Face to Face, a weekly web interview from the staff of Face the Nation.

Those social issues are a defining part of Santorum's candidacy and his newfound support as a the leading conservative candidate.

"And they asked him, well he said I want a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and they said well what about the people who are already married? And he said well they would be nullified. I mean what is, what's human, what's kind about that? We're all human beings, we all know or love somebody who's gay or lesbian so what the hell is that about? To me it's startling and borders on disgust," said Simpson, who would be considered a centrist Republican by today's standards served at a time when the two parties in Congress were not as far apart on the ideological spectrum as they are today.

Simpson's prognosis about the focus on social issues could prove true in November's general election. In the most recent CBS News/ New York Times poll, when asked if a candidate's economic or social views matter more, Republicans and all respondents chose the economy by a three-to-one margin over social issues. Santorum though is seeing a bounce in the poll as most Republican primary voters say a candidate's strong moral character is the most important quality they are looking for.

In his career, Simpson has also had more moderate views about gays. Though he voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act which defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman and for "Don't Ask Don't Tell," in 2007 he publicly reversed his stance with an editorial in the Washington Post. In that piece, he wrote, "Since 1993 I have had the rich satisfaction of knowing and working with many openly gay and lesbian Americans, and I have come to realize that 'gay' is an artificial category when it comes to measuring a man or a woman's on-the-job performance or commitment to shared goals."

The former co-chair of President Obama's bipartisan debt commisison, Simpson-Bowles, told Schieffer that he thinks Mitt Romney is the best candidate to defeat the incumbent president.

"I think that he can win because of the ancient political thing that you know so well, people don't vote for anybody, they vote against. And if Obama keeps stumbling around in it - but he won't--but if he does, they'll vote against him. And at that point the other guy wins," he said.

Last week, Simpson "tossed some money in the kitty" for Romney, his first public backing of the Republican delegate leader. He likes that the former Massachusetts Governor has "done things that others have never done. He's been in the fray, he knows what a payroll is."

But Simpson's not giving a whole hearted endorsement of Romney as the true conservative Republican in the race. He seemed to question the value of the "saliva test of purity" many conservatives apply to candidates, but admitted Romney's record in Massachusetts is "an indication that he might be rather moderate," which makes it difficult for him to pass that saliva test for some voters. Simpson, though, thinks Romney "can make it" if he gets through Super Tuesday.

For most of his career, Simpson was known as a straight talker. He didn't shy away from that in the interview with Schieffer.

As a leading deficit hawk, and author of a plan to cut $4 trillion from the federal deficit, Simpson said that the current political focus on earmarks is hypocritical as nearly every candidate in the race for the White House embraced them at some point in his career. Even Governor Romney, but then again, he says, so what?

"He's done this or that, and now they're saying that he sought earmarks when he was in Massachusetts from the federal government. Who didn't? There isn't a soul wandering this whole village that hasn't done earmarks. Santorum stuffed them in his pocket, Newt, Romney, whoever, name them, Obama. That's the game. Bring home the bacon, go get the highway, go get the airport, go get the YMCA, get me some money. Well the pig is dead, there's no bacon to bring home," he added, suggesting that because of the state of the federal budget, everyone has now embraced deficit reduction as excessive government spending is a thing of the past.

In the end though, Simpson says the newfound frontrunner spotlight on Santorum will shed light on his stances on some issues that could cost him support, just as did for other past frontrunners who had come from the bottom of the polls to challenge Romney.

"Now, Santorum is caught in the roll. He hasn't had the searchlight on him. Every time the search light falls - on Cain, or Newt or whoever, you know the emperor's riding nekkid down the street. So, I think Romney's had the assault. He's been shelled from coast-to-coast and he's still there. Newt will not be there, there's just too much baggage. Santorum, as they peel the onion, will not receive the support he thinks," he said.

Face to Face is a mid-week web special brought to you by the Face the Nation team. Check out cbsnews.com/facetoface every Wednesday for the latest edition.

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