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. Meg

    If this guy gets the nomination I'm going to live in a bunker. I don't want Santorum running for an office where he could be nominated to sit in a seat across from Ahmadinejad discussing policy and nukes, or deciding radical special plans for the US relationship with any other world leaders, among other domestic concerns. It would be a mistake to underestimate this guy and shrug him off as someone who can't beat Obama. There are enough fools in this country to vote for him in a primary, and I wouldn't trust those same fools to not elect him as President.

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

    santorum doesn't care about womens rights...

    February 12, 2012 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  3. Susan in NC

    Which two, Rick? My vote would go to "None of the Above!"

    February 12, 2012 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  4. mb2010a

    Yes, it is a two person race. Happily neither one of them is Rick Santorum...

    February 12, 2012 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  5. steve

    santorum is an idiot. its the two man race is between old mittens and the great doctor, ron paul. vote ron paul 2012. vote for peace. vote for liberty.

    February 12, 2012 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  6. WHATNEXT

    Dumb and Dumber!Wow what a choice

    February 12, 2012 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  7. Squigman

    For once in his life he's right. The two people are Obama and Biden.

    February 12, 2012 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  8. 60minuteman

    It is not a race between two candidates. It is a race between one corporation, one preacher, and one southern dog-whistle rascist.

    February 12, 2012 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  9. Dennis1020

    Ooooo, I REALLY hope Santorum gets the nomination because it will ensure a Democratic sweep of the Presidency, the Senate and the House. This country is not ready or willing to return to the Dark Ages.

    February 12, 2012 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  10. steve

    if santorum becomes the nominee,,,,I WILL VOTE FOR OBAMA

    February 12, 2012 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  11. AW

    Yes sir, between Obama and Romney. I'm glad Rick finally understands. Maybe he'll drop out now.

    February 12, 2012 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  12. Joop Kaashoek

    Regurgitating 2000 year old ideas only gets you so far. To the 12-th century perhaps...

    February 12, 2012 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  13. WAKE UP PEOPLE

    I'd like to know more about Sen. Santorum. I don't need to know anymore about the Mitt (aka car salesman).
    At this point, I don't trust Mitt at all, he changes his stance on a dime. EVERYONE needs to rally around Santorum as the man that can defeat Oh-bumma.

    NO MORE YEARS!!!

    February 12, 2012 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  14. GODZILLA1

    It is a two man race: Obama vs Romney.

    February 12, 2012 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  15. Paul_1

    This is Santorum saying "I want to be the Veep".

    February 12, 2012 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  16. Rmo

    Looks like this Rick Scrotum could be the man!

    February 12, 2012 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  17. Thomas

    Santorum , talks the tough talk , Cant walk the walk . Unless you want a Dictator .

    Ricks way or the highway isn't a road well traveled !

    February 12, 2012 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  18. Lily NewName

    I worry about Santorums ability to make decisions. After all he is a man and we know how emotional and violent they can be.

    February 12, 2012 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  19. flush limballs

    for a party to try and elect the worst possible choice to run against Obama shows that Obama should win very easy

    February 12, 2012 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  20. Jeetu

    So, Santorum and his republican friends are saying that 46 million people should not have healthcare insurance. How is that consitent with American dream? How does that decrease the cost of healthcare? When a person withou healthcare insurance needs medical help, s/he goes to an emergency room, making the cost of healthcare to skyrocket. Who pays for it? The tacpayers pay it and hence how is that not an issue for the American society?

    I think we need to think rationally and with passion as to what is good for America and Americans and not for some candidates, idealogolies, political parties, and dogmas. Dogmas of 2oth century are unsuitable for the 21st century and republican presidential candidatrs want to go back to the ways of the 20th century which gace us the economy demise of 2008 which we are still suffering. We cannot allow them to hold us hodtage to the past. Their desire to only help the richest people cannot be supported now and in the future. Thus, these republicans cannot be US President and I hope that they don't have majority in House of Representatives and the senate.during the November 2012 elections. I am sure it will happen.

    February 12, 2012 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  21. Robert

    Muahahahahahah! Gingrich is irrelevant! Muahahahahahahah!

    February 12, 2012 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  22. flush limballs

    Isn't it possible that after 9/11 That Bush made some serious mistakes even if he thought it was good ? Isn't it possible that the republican party begin to change and got off track with all the patriotism stuff ? Isn't it possible that those who rallied around Bush began to ignore his mistakes and went into denial ? And isn't it possible that sticking with those wrong beliefs caused the party to be on the fringe ? That is why the tea party took over the party , now it is a mess .I doubt i will ever vote republican again, I sure don't believe anything they say . I have heard it all before .

    February 12, 2012 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  23. Fair Taxes

    The United States should not let a criminal organization like the catholic church dictate policy.

    What is so special about catholics and birth control that makes them more important than other people and their personal beliefs, you know, like raping little boys is bad?

    If the pope wants to influence American public policy, at least pay your god damned taxes.

    Excuse me while I go puke. Catholics are so disgusting.

    February 12, 2012 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  24. Wyobob

    Two man race to see who will be the first loser.

    February 12, 2012 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  25. marty

    Re: Rick Santorum. Correction on the letter C. It isn't the Party of Conservatives that he represents, it is the Party of Calumny that he espouses so well. Ironically,it was Santorums' mentor, Newt Gingrich, who, as the head of CPAC, took this freshman senator under his wing and introduced him to the "finer" points of Washington life.

    Neither man can be trusted..

    February 12, 2012 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
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