US Republicans Santorum, Romney in dead heat

February 14, 2012 6:32 am
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Santorum has surged to the forefront with 30 percent/FILE
WASHINGTON, Feb 14 – US Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are in a dead heat following the latter’s sweep of three state nomination votes last week, according to two national polls.

A Pew Research Center poll carried out between February 8-12 found that Santorum, a Christian conservative and former senator, had surged to the forefront with 30 percent compared to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney at 28 percent.

The same poll a month ago put Romney at 31 percent, more than double Santorum’s 14 percent, indicating the dramatic nature of the latest turn in the volatile battle to take on Democratic President Barack Obama in November.

A Gallup poll carried out during the same period put Romney at 32 percent and Santorum at 30 percent. In both polls, released on Monday, the difference was within the statistical margin of error, indicating a virtual tie.

The latest polls, like the results in last week’s largely symbolic votes in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, indicate the lingering enthusiasm gap for Romney, who has been the frontrunner for most of the last year but has yet to rally the party’s conservative base behind his White House bid.

As the state-by state nomination battle continues, the candidates’ local popularity will be more important than their national appeal, but here too Romney’s campaign has cause for concern.

Another two polls released on Monday showed Santorum in the lead in the key battleground state of Michigan, where Romney’s father once served as governor and where he had been expected to cruise to an easy victory.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, seen as Romney’s chief rival after a decisive victory in South Carolina last month, has since slid in the polls, while Texas congressman Ron Paul retains a small but devoted following.

Gingrich’s continued presence in the race is widely believed to help Romney by splitting the conservative vote with Santorum.

Many in the party’s base doubt Romney’s commitment to conservative issues like small government and opposition to abortion and gay marriage, following his moderate tenure as governor of left-leaning Massachusetts.

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