February 12th, 2012
12:03 PM ET
3 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. asm_ith

    Santorum rages against government intrusion into religion because of the recent contraception discussion. Yet he also would like to permit governments to outlaw contraception entirely, which is merely pushing his religious beliefs on everyone else by government intrusion. He is a total hypocrite as well as someone who is essentially pushing for a theocracy.

    February 12, 2012 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  2. Zeke2112

    Santorum's plan for America: replace the Constitution with the Bible.

    No thanks. Given the choice, I'll grudgingly vote for Obama again, as I did the last time I was presented with a crazy Christian GOP candidate.

    February 12, 2012 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  3. Abolish All Religion

    Santorum will make a perfect president. For the Islamic Republic of Iran.

    February 12, 2012 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  4. Reddog9500

    Hmmm, my impression was that Richie Cunningham was a product of 1950's naivete. A nice kid, but nice doesn't win fights, as Santorum knows full well, considering how he is attempting to discredit his opponents for the nomination. Eddie Haskell from Leave It To Beaver would be a more appropriate comparison because of the way he's always got a scheme going.

    February 12, 2012 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  5. us1776

    It'll be Santorum and Ron Paul at the convention.

    .

    February 12, 2012 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  6. Jamie

    Yes, Romney and Paul.

    and I can't wait to vote for Ron Paul in PA

    February 12, 2012 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  7. ksmary

    Four..Most of us understood Arale's point. It seems Mr. Santorum is willing to find a way to sell out the workers (in this case professional wrestlers) in order to benefit the millionaire owners of WWE who end up with more money by paying fewer taxes and following fewer regulations.

    February 12, 2012 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  8. robertillo

    no matter who win the race between the rep. nomination , the chances for that nominee to win the main election in november are 0, period.

    February 12, 2012 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  9. DeTamble

    Santorum.
    A bible in one hand, the American flag in the other.
    The only thing missing is the Hitler mustache.

    February 12, 2012 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  10. Conrack

    "but that is a very different thing than a fundamental takeover of a sector of the economy.”

    It shows how little the man understands about the Health Care Reform Act.

    February 12, 2012 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  11. Wowsors

    Rick Santorum couldn't even get past bronze league as Terran, don't vote for him.

    February 12, 2012 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  12. logicnLA

    This is a 2 man race- Romney and Obama. Santorum is a joke

    February 12, 2012 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  13. BunnyBunny

    Oh please! This whole race they have been up and down so much, they stay within a few points of each other. I think Ron Paul will be the next front-man after this next debate. He won't win, but it's his turn. This dude is gonna fall like a bag of rocks off a bridge.

    February 12, 2012 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  14. Jeremy

    Santorum says Ron Paul pays supporters to vote? HAH! That is the FUNNIEST thing I have ever heard. Ron Paul supporters BELIEVE in something they don't need to be paid to vote they do it happily. ... I wonder if Santorum paid people to vote since he seems to be pointing the finger around ...?

    February 12, 2012 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  15. Harry Baxter

    Since Obama will crush Santorum in the general election, I'm praying for him.

    February 12, 2012 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  16. Jt_flyer

    GOP stubbornness means we're all stuck with Obama for 4 more years. This is what happens when you live your little lives in a vacuum.

    February 12, 2012 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  17. Mike S. Botwin

    Rick.... you couldn't even get re-elected to your own senate seat in your own state. The End.

    February 12, 2012 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  18. Walter

    Santorum is right – it is a two man race. Romney vs. Obama.

    February 12, 2012 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  19. DE

    Sanitorum says that Obama is trying to tell you how to live your life and at the same tiime is he trying to dictate people's sex live. This man might make a good thinker, in the 14th CENTURY!!!

    February 12, 2012 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  20. Pat

    I wonder how many hours santorum has to spend every week in the confessional.

    February 12, 2012 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  21. Chuck

    How sad ... This is the best Republicans can do. They can't produce a viable candidate on his merits and on what's best for the country. Instead, among all the fear-mongering they claim that they're the best alternative to Obama ...?

    February 12, 2012 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  22. the original

    The Republicans get the candidates they deserve. Reagan is spinning in his grave. SCARY.

    February 12, 2012 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  23. tony

    Blessed are the Self-Righteous, for they shall rule in God's stead.

    February 12, 2012 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  24. Debby

    This guy is a whacko. Two man race yeah he is behind in double digits from this poll.

    February 12, 2012 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  25. ct

    he's right, its romney 08 vs romney 11-12

    February 12, 2012 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
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