Santorum surging in Republican presidential race

February 15, 2012 8:10 am
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Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum/AFP
WASHINGTON, Feb 15 – Rick Santorum’s drive to capture the Republican presidential nomination gained momentum as he surged to the front of the field in national polls and extended his lead over Mitt Romney in his rival’s native Michigan.

But Romney’s supporters were just rolling out the big guns — massive spending on television and radio ads — that drove previous poorly funded challengers from the field in key states like Florida and Iowa.

Michigan, where Romney was born and raised, is looming as a crucial, must-win state for the candidate, who has struggled to convince Republicans he is the man to go up against President Barack Obama in November elections.

“I am a son of Detroit,” Romney proclaimed in an op-ed piece published Tuesday in the Detroit News ahead of the February 28 primary vote. A new television ad also touted him as a hometown boy.

But national polls showed Santorum surging ahead of longtime frontrunner Romney and the ground shifting rapidly against the former Massachusetts governor since he lost three state nominating contests to the former Pennsylvania senator last week.

All four remaining Republican candidates — Santorum, Romney, Texas congressman Ron Paul and former House speaker Newt Gingrich — have agreed to take part in a CNN-hosted debate in Arizona on February 22, less than a week before the primary there and in Michigan.

Romney, whose father was once the state’s governor and head of a now defunct auto company, used his op-ed to attack Obama’s bailout of the auto industry as “crony capitalism on a grand scale.”

economy “The indisputable good news is that Chrysler and General Motors are still in business. The equally indisputable bad news is that all the defects in President Obama’s management of the American are evident in what he did.

“Instead of doing the right thing and standing up to union bosses, Obama rewarded them,” Romney wrote.

It was unclear how that message will go down in a heavily blue-collar state that has experienced a long struggle with economic decay, a plunge into auto industry bankruptcies, and now a bailout-backed recovery.

A national CBS/New York Times poll released Tuesday had Santorum at 30 percent among likely Republican primary voters, to 27 percent for Romney, Paul at 12 percent, and Gingrich at 10 percent.

Another poll, by CNN/ORC International, had Santorum at 34 to 32 percent for Romney, but found low enthusiasm among Republican voters for any of the candidates.

In Michigan, Santorum is now out front at 39 percent to 24 percent for Romney, 12 for libertarian Paul and 11 percent for Gingrich in a survey released Monday by Public Policy Polling.

“Especially at this moment with Santorum surging, Romney needs a win from the Republican base in Michigan,” said Charles Franklin, a visiting professor at Marquette University Law School.

“The bet he’s making here is that even in Michigan, non-union Republicans — and a lot of them blue collar workers — will not see the bailout of the auto industry as a success story, as the Obama administration wants to see it.”

The Romney campaign, meanwhile, was reported to be preparing a barrage of attacks on Santorum, portraying him as a Washington insider who has never run anything larger than a Senate office.

“Santorum is going to get introduced to people that don’t know him,” a Romney advisor was quoted as telling the political website Buzzfeed.

“They’re going to hit him very hard on earmarks, lobbying, voting to raise the federal debt limit five times,” the advisor said. “The story of Santorum is going to be told over the next few weeks in a big way.”

Politico reported that the Super PAC, or political action committee, supporting Romney is sinking nearly half a million dollars into Michigan in the week of February 14-20, signaling a sharp escalation in spending.

Santorum, a Christian conservative, has appeared to benefit from his image as a politician with working class roots from Pennsylvania, a northeastern state with a similar industrial profile to Michigan.

His poll surge has come amid a sudden eruption of fights nationally over explosive cultural issues such as religion, gay marriage, contraception and women’s rights.

Those issues play to Santorum’s record.

But he also found himself on the defensive over a 2005 book that scoffed at the “radical” feminist view that men and women should be given an equal opportunity to make it to the top in the workplace.

In Michigan, Santorum was expected to shift the topic back to jobs, the economy, and other bread and butter issues at the top of voter concerns.

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