February 12th, 2012
12:03 PM ET
2 years ago

Santorum: ‘This is a two-person race’

(CNN) – Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Sunday declared himself Mitt Romney’s main competitor, essentially dismissing Newt Gingrich as a frontrunner.

“We think this is a two-person race right now,” Santorum said, referring to Romney, on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We’re focused on making sure that folks know that we’re the best alternative to Barack Obama.”

His comments follow new poll results that show the former Pennsylvania senator surging in the race. Gallup’s national daily tracking poll on Saturday indicated Santorum in second place with 24% behind Romney at 34%. Meanwhile, Gingrich fell to third place with 17% support.

In addition, a new survey released Friday showed Santorum in first place in Tennessee, which holds its primary on Super Tuesday on March 6, followed by Romney in second and Gingrich in third.

The poll results followed big wins for Santorum in the Republican nominating contest this week that sparked more than $3 million in a fundraising haul. He plans to campaign heavily in Michigan and Arizona ahead of their upcoming primaries on February 28.

Despite a high-profile appearance at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference this weekend, Santorum failed to win the event’s closely-watched straw poll.

To the surprise of many political observers, Romney won the symbolic contest with roughly 38% of the vote, besting Santorum's 31% support. The gathering is known for drawing social conservatives and, more recently, tea party supporters - two blocs within the Republican Party that Santorum needs to win to position himself as the main conservative alternative to Romney.

Santorum suggested Sunday that Romney won the CPAC straw poll by paying supporters to show up and vote, a tactic he said fellow candidate Ron Paul also has used in the past.

"There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s absolutely a strategy. We just don’t think that’s a good use of our resources, and Gov. Romney, obviously, you know, may have a different idea,” Santorum told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley.

Responding to his comments Sunday, Romney's campaign said "Santorum has a history of making statements that aren't grounded in the truth" and pointed to Romney's win in the Maine caucuses Saturday night, as well as a separate nationwide survey of conservatives conducted by CPAC organizers

“Conservative voters recognize that in order to change Washington, we need someone who isn't a creature of Washington," Andrea Saul, Romney spokesperson, said in a statement.

On the program, Santorum also was asked about his past support as senator of increased federal money for Amtrak, the national rail line that he now opposes funding.

Santorum said he was simply protecting the interests of his state at the time, particularly the important Amtrak service to Philadelphia.

“That’s an important piece of the economic viability of that very busy and congested corridor,” Santorum said. “We’re at a very, very different time now with the economy of this country and the budget deficits, and Amtrak funding is going to be one of those things that just has to go.”

However, Santorum denied that his former support for Amtrak to protect his home state was comparable to Romney’s support as governor of Massachusetts of a state-specific health care program under which people were required to buy a product.

“It’s very different than having the government mandate that you buy health insurance,” Santorum said. “There are certainly legitimate arguments as to whether we should fund Amtrak or not, but that is a very different thing than a fundamental takeover of a sector of the economy.”

Clearly enjoying his new momentum in the Republican presidential race, Santorum continued to tout his social conservative appeal.

In another interview Sunday morning, Santorum was asked about the observation that his trademark sweater vests and boy-next-door persona prompted comparisons to Richie Cunningham, the all-American character played by Ron Howard on the television show "Happy Days."

He said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that in view of some of the things going on in American popular culture, "a little bit of Richie Cunningham wouldn’t be a bad thing for our society right now."

– CNN’s Tom Cohen contributed to this report.

Also see:

Palin calls on Romney to work harder for the conservative vote

Soros undecided on pro-Obama super PAC

Lew defends new contraception policy

Watch State of the Union with Candy Crowley Sundays at 9am ET. For the latest from State of the Union click here.


Filed under: 2012 • Mitt Romney • Rick Santorum • TV-State of the Union
soundoff (176 Responses)
  1. vic , nashville ,tn

    When its comes to policy there are no difference between Mitt Romney and president Obama (not candidate Obama)
    So 38% CPAC members just hate Obama

    February 12, 2012 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  2. logicnLA

    America will never vote for this hateful man as President. i guess he has forgottenjust how soundly he lost a reelection bid for the Senate when poepel got to know him.

    February 12, 2012 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    For a change Santorum is right, it is a two person race, Mitt and Obama

    February 12, 2012 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  4. ARALE NORIMAKI

    Rick Santorum was a lawyer for professional wrestling.Back in the late 1980s, the family-values candidate played a central role in deregulating professional wrestling in Pennsylvania as part of a team that lobbied the state government to get wrestling’s status changed from sport to entertainment. WWE's formal acknowledgement that their product is "sports entertainment" has saved the company millions of dollars in taxes and state athletic commission fees. It also deregulated the pro wrestling industry and eliminated government oversight – which many have argued led to the proliferation of drug abuse among performers and premature deaths.

    February 12, 2012 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  5. GI Joe.

    We rejected a theocracy 200 years ago, we'll reject it again in 2012.

    What a nutjob.

    February 12, 2012 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  6. Namejkane fl

    Yea, two teapublican clowns, dem landslide in Nov

    February 12, 2012 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  7. dagoberto

    Of course it's a two person race: Miit vs Ron. You can't collect many delegates. Can you?

    February 12, 2012 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  8. Four and The Door

    ARALE NORIMAKI
    Rick Santorum was a lawyer for professional wrestling...
    __________________________________________________________________________________________________
    You are not one to bother yourself with the real issues of the nation, are you?

    February 12, 2012 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  9. John

    Santorum is as shameful as the rest of the field. Ron Paul supporters don't have to be bribed to go vote, they just go on their own. Ron Paul for president!!!

    February 12, 2012 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  10. Ed Fl

    The two peson race is Romney and his alter ego. Santorum and Gingrich are living in a fantasy world.Neither has a chance of winning the GOP nomination. Anyone can enter late and be a better candidate than Santorum. This guy got kicked out of his two term Senate seat by the voters in his home state. What makes him think the whole country would give him enough votes to become President?

    February 12, 2012 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  11. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    This will boil down to a two person race. It will be between the severely conservative moderate liberal, and President Obama, the person who has turned around the republican near depression.

    February 12, 2012 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  12. Contabilitate

    Mitt Romney, has no competitor clearly wins elections

    February 12, 2012 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  13. Anthony

    Actually, this is a one-person race, and no Republican (a real Republican or a Republican-In-Name-Only) is involved. Have you seen the latest FOX News and Rasmussen polls on the general election?

    February 12, 2012 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  14. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Can anyone tell me what Santorum's plan is for this country because it takes an idiot not to recognize he doesn't have one. There's reasons why Santorum was kicked out of his two term Senate seat by voters in his own state and now he thinks people are stupid enough to let him run this country, I don't think so because I'm not stupid.

    February 12, 2012 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  15. WhereIsPalin

    "The poll results followed big wins for Santorum in the Republican nominating contest this week that sparked more than $3 million in a fundraising haul."

    And not one of the donors wants anything in return. They were all planning on donating to his candidacy a long time ago. Stay tuned...........

    February 12, 2012 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  16. GI Joe.

    Mitt or Rick - the race to the bottom of the barrel.

    February 12, 2012 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  17. CoJo

    give Ron Paul and Romney credit, Santorum acknowledged he screwed up while he was in congress. Santorum voted for increasing the debt ceiling multiple times and other big government spending. So where is the tea party now? They want a person (Santorum) that has publically acknowledged he screwed up and voted for big government spending? Tea party people are hypocrites if they continue to back a person that has a record to goes against what they want. Only now does he come clean (when someone points it out). Only now he is against it when he is no longer in congress...
    he says he surrounds himself with conservatives. Strong implies he can't (and WON'T) reach across the table to work WITH people with different views. He JUST WON'T. I thought Gingrich was bad, Santorum is worse. Heaven help us if the best is Ron Paul... at least he seems to listen (or is grandfather charm has me confused). He is also the only one acknowledging the republicans in the past are just as much to blame as the democrats
    Santorum is only saying he doesn't want the feds to mandate (nor the states in Romney's case). So he is mandating that the states shall not mandate health care.
    Santorum says he surrounds himself with conservatives. Strong implies he can't (and WON'T) reach across the table to work WITH people with different views. He JUST WON'T. I thought Gingrich was bad, Santorum is worse. Heaven help us if the best is Ron Paul... at least he seems to listen (or is grandfather charm has me confused). He is also the only one acknowledging the republicans in the past are just as much to blame as the democrats
    Gingrich has already publically stated he needs a republican congress to get any work done. Meaning he will not work others of different views.
    Sounds like a comment theme among tea party, conservatives, and republicans? Only will work with their strict kind!!!

    February 12, 2012 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  18. Ambrose Smith

    Perhaps it's time for NEWT to step aside and stop splitting up the "anyone but Romney" vote"-–eh Newt? Now the shoe is on the other foot. STEP ASIDE!

    February 12, 2012 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  19. Al conklin

    He got 26000 votes in Colorado, a state of 5000000 and now he thinks he is a front runner because he got 3000 more than Romney. Reality check is needed.

    February 12, 2012 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  20. Marry

    Thank you ARALE NORIMAKI to bring that to our attention. I did not know that. I can hardly believe it seeing Santorum preach! But now I know where he learned to be so deceptive, so misrepresenting, so bashing, so shameful – incredible!
    Rick Santorum, Family Values Candidate and Pro Wrestling Advocate? It sounds like a surreal plot of political pulp fiction, but it’s true – sais The Daily Beast. Now, this is really the heights of hypocrisy.

    February 12, 2012 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  21. JohnRJohnson

    The scariest thing about Rick Santorum is that he is so good at masquerading as a decent person. In reality, he is a Great White Shark disguised as Flipper. A dedicated homophobic theocrat, he has been for anything BUT small government and his attacks on President Obama, calling him everything but the anti-Christ, have been grotesquely dishonest. Now, just like every previous "frontrunner" in these circus-like Republican primaries, Santorum is about to get fully "vetted" by his opponents and his "15 minutes" will be up in a matter of weeks, if not days.

    February 12, 2012 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  22. Drew

    This is a two man race between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. How does someone who finishes with around ~17% less than 20% behind Paul and Romney, seem so confident. If this race wasn't funded by Super Pacs and corporate $$ this primary would be in favor of Ron Paul. He receives more individual donations from average citizens and active duty military personnel than all other Republican candidates.

    February 12, 2012 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  23. once upon a horse

    when it gets to the point where both FoxNews AND Rasmusse polls show the president defeating all that the GOP has to offer at the moment...if I were on the right I would be a bit more than concerned. Heck even RUSH LIMBAUGH has made hints that they are in trouble at the moment.

    February 12, 2012 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  24. Rich

    Santorum should rescind his slanderous speech in regards to Ron Paul paying supporters to vote unless he has absolute proof. Paul's supporters are the most vivacious of all supporters, as one can see at nearly all of his rallies and speeches. In response to the following quote from the article:

    "Santorum suggested Sunday that Romney won the CPAC straw poll by paying supporters to show up and vote, a tactic he said fellow candidate Ron Paul also has used in the past.

    "There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s absolutely a strategy. We just don’t think that’s a good use of our resources, and Gov. Romney, obviously, you know, may have a different idea,” Santorum told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowle."

    February 12, 2012 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  25. RKM

    ...so why is Rick still trying?

    February 12, 2012 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
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