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Santorum: Trim Social Security benefits now

KEENE, N.H. -- Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Friday called for immediate cuts to Social Security benefits, risking the wrath of older voters and others who balk at changes to the entitlement program.

"We can't wait 10 years," even though "everybody wants to," Santorum told a crowd while campaigning in New Hampshire and looking to set himself apart from his Republican rivals four days before the state's primary.

Most of his opponents have advocated phasing in a reduction but say immediate cuts would be too big a shock. Politicians typically suggest phase-in periods of up to a decade when broaching the topic of changing Social Security to avoid grievous consequences from angering older voters.

Clearly aware of the risks, Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, argued that everyone must sacrifice now because the nation's "house is on fire" with soaring federal debt.

Meanwhile Friday, Mitt Romney, looking beyond an expected win in New Hampshire, reached out to South Carolina voters with a two-track argument that President Barack Obama has mishandled the economy and devised an "inexcusable, unthinkable" plan to shrink the U.S. military.

And his GOP rivals kept up an anti-Romney drumbeat in New Hampshire, hoping to chip away at his support and slow his momentum.

The Republicans' 2008 nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, teamed up with Romney in South Carolina and invested huge importance in the state's verdict. "If Mitt Romney wins here, he will be the next president of the United States," McCain said.

A new poll showed Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, gaining significant ground in the state and Newt Gingrich sliding. The Time/CNN/ORC poll had Romney leading with 37 percent, a 17-point gain since early December. Santorum was at 19 percent, a 15-point surge. He's now nearly tied with former House Speaker Gingrich.

Romney kept up his criticism of Obama as a jobs killer even as the Labor Department reported that employers added a net 200,000 jobs last month and that the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent.

Romney said the report contains some good news, but that America still "deserves better."

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