Rick Santorum drew applause from Ohio tea party voters - but perhaps raised some eyebrows, too - when he suggested Saturday that President Barack Obama leads based on a theology different from that in the Bible.
It left some wondering whether he was implying that Obama subscribes to a religion other than Christianity.
The comments came at an event in Columbus shortly after the former senator from Pennsylvania said efficacy and safety improvements in oil drilling technology are considered by the president to be "a dangerous technology."
"It doesn't fit his pattern of trying to drive down consumption, trying to drive up your cost of transportation to accomplish his political science goal of reducing carbon dioxide," he said.
Obama, he continued, is not motivated by "your quality of life."
"It's not about your job. It's about some phony ideal, some phony theology," Santorum said. "Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology. But no less a theology."
The White House hopeful held a press conference later in the day, where a half dozen questions centered on the topic.
Santorum told reporters that the message he was trying to convey was that the president merely holds "different moral values."
"You may want to call it a theology, you may want to call it secular values," he said. "Whatever you want to call it. . . it is a different set of moral values that they are imposing on people who have a constitutional right to have their own values within the church."
He said Obama has reached a "low in this country's history of oppressing religious freedom that we have never seen before."
Asked if he believes the president is less of a Christian than someone such as himself, Santorum said that "no one is suggesting that."
"In the Christian church there are a lot of different stripes of Christianity. . . . I'm just saying he's imposing his values on the church and I think that's wrong," he said.
Responding to a separate question on whether he disagrees with Obama when the president calls himself a Christian, Santorum said, "If the president says he's a Christian, he's a Christian."
He added that liberals on "the left" have been imposing their own moral code on Americans for quite some time.
"You can call it a theology, you can call it a moral code, you can call it a world view," he said. "They want to impose [that] on everybody else while they insist and complain that somehow or another people of Judeo Christian faith are intolerant of their new moral code."
Santorum's comments may strike certain chords with some Republican voters who have questioned Obama's faith before, or others who saw the administration's recent contraception mandate as an overreach.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt issued a response to the comments, but did not directly address whether the campaign saw this as a direct attack on his Christian credentials.
"This is just the latest low in a Republican primary campaign that has been fueled by distortions, ugliness, and searing pessimism and negativity - a stark contrast with the president who is focused everyday on creating jobs and restoring economic security for the middle class."
Last month, Santorum was criticized by some for not correcting a voter who called the president a Muslim when she stood up to ask a question at one of his campaign town halls.