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. jack

    The GOP must be as dumb as the Democrats say they are, they threw away their one good candidate Newt Gingrich and left the Mormon and the Fundamendalist to fight it out over who will lose to the Kenyan Muslim in 2012.

    February 12, 2012 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  2. James PDX

    I love that the guy who finished 3rd in the last state is declaring it a 2 man race. Santorum; good for laughs, bad for president.

    February 12, 2012 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  3. Will

    Hey Vic from Tennessee,

    One way or another, a "damnyankee" is getting elected and there's nothing YOU can do about it. The South's 40 year stranglehold on the presidency (and the Republican party) is OVER.

    February 12, 2012 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  4. Larry L

    The Republican ticket is ridiculous. Santorum is a man who openly promotes the concept of a theocracy and actually believes the Earth is less than 6000 years old. He'd like a war with Iran. A person like that could never be trusted with weapons of mass destruction nor could he make decisions about America's future in a world dependent on science and technology. Romney is a liberal, moderate, "severely" conservative corporate lap-dog. Paul is an anarchist who lives in a world of 1950 and is rapidly approaching senility. Gingrich is a pasty-faced, Washington insider with the morals of an alley cat – now claiming to have Jesus... Right...

    February 12, 2012 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  5. Sarah

    I have come to the conclusion this is a creepy guy - one sound bite after another. Why does he want to be president so much? He is not qualified - would set this nation back a century in thinking.

    February 12, 2012 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  6. LouiseBelinda

    Again, we see desperation from the Republicans. Out front getting as much free airtime, they can steal from the media. They call each other a liar so that must be true. Now is the time to remember them as they are. This party is definitely wrong for the country. Bush left a mess; the president is trying to clean it up. No one could have cleaned it up in 4 years without help from both parties. Here is hoping the American public is smarter than the republicans think we are, and that we have a long memory of how they depress and polarize the country.

    February 12, 2012 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  7. Texas Conservative

    Santorum sounds like Newt now. Whining and pointing fingers. Romney cheats, Romney's desperate, Romney lies – please! Yes, make Romney convince us he's going to repeal Obamacare, but stop being a baby.

    February 12, 2012 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  8. fistface

    TRENDING: Santorum: ‘This is a two-person race’ - Yeah.. a race off a cliff.... This current iteration of the "Republican Party" will never sniff the Oval Office. They are going to have to stop reading their Bibles and Read the Constitution of the Unites States of American for starters. Then they have to drop the pandering to special interests, get fiscally Conservative, and Represent the Greater Good and Mass Majority (The Working Class Americans)... in order too even get a valid shot at the White House.. even then.. they have decades of Damage Control to handle...

    February 12, 2012 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  9. Jt_flyer

    Obama... And who's the other guy?

    February 12, 2012 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  10. Freddo

    It's a 2-main race, Rick. Too bad the "2nd man" is a game of musical chairs between you and Newt and ...

    All bluster, zero substance.

    February 12, 2012 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  11. Jack V

    Anyone with a "google" problem can't believe they'd be POTUS.

    February 12, 2012 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  12. z

    go ron paul. someone that actually made it to all 50 states ballots.

    February 12, 2012 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  13. Phillco

    For once santorum 's right it is a two man race...between Romney and Obama!

    February 12, 2012 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  14. Me 3

    Santorum is the one restricting peoples rights, not Obama. Obama is offering a plan that offers rights to all consistent with their faiths. Santorum is the one who is trying to stuff his crazy beliefs down the throats of others. How did this get twisted around?

    February 12, 2012 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  15. Richard

    Hear you go again GOP another Palin up there before they are vetted and then let the Dems do it. This guy is arrogant and it is his way or the highway. Loves to brag about his hard working parents but he only has worked his mouth trying to cheat the School District out of 100,000.00 .

    February 12, 2012 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  16. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    I say let the mud fly. Santorum needs to fight for his chance at the nomination. All of them have a shot. I just don't think that anyone of them can really win against Obama at this point. There doesn't seem to be any good or new ideas from any of them.

    February 12, 2012 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  17. Larry L

    I'd like somebody to ask Santorum about the healthcare insurance that covers his family. They've had some tragic and serious events and the medical bill would be enormous – far too big for anybody without a good healthcare insurance plan. How many children are facing these tragedies without the safety net of the government-sponsored plan the Santorum family enjoys? Is good healthcare only a right of the rich who can pay the huge premiums and the government workers who get great plans for reasonable prices?

    February 12, 2012 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  18. Steve

    If you think you like Santorum, take a good, good look. He lost his seat in Penn after a term because his constituency got to know him. He has been on both sides of every major issue. He is homophobic. He was one of the most prolific earmarkers. He is the definition of an insider. He will bring his self righteous, pious, hypocritical judgements with him to the White House if you elect him. Take a good look!

    February 12, 2012 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  19. Ann

    The statement made by Rick Santorum is demonstrably true.

    February 12, 2012 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  20. anagram_kid

    I found it very interesting when Santorum made comments last week about the government imposing laws that were contrary to religious beliefs. I wonder if he opposes the federal law that made polygamy illegal? Oh that's right only his religion matters.

    Obama 2012 – So we can continue moving forward

    February 12, 2012 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  21. Liz the First

    No, it's a one-man, 4 idiots race, and the one man is Obama!!! all these rethugs can do is hate and call him names, but then when someone asks them to do something about jobs, the main concern of the American people, they blather that government can't create jobs. so if they're running on creating jobs on one hand and saying they can't do it on the other, who would be stupid enough to vote for any of these clowns? the truth is government CAN create jobs and would've been able to do a lot more of it if the rethugs hadn't stopped Obama and the Democrats from doing what was necessary to get our economy moving again just so they could say he was a failure. Wake up, 'wake up, people.' you're being played for a total fool! you are supporting people who are hurting you!!! rethugs have nothing to offer but more of the disaster of the Bush regime. we barely survived that!

    February 12, 2012 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  22. 66Biker

    Some race ya got goin' there, Republicons. Ya got four people left in it, none of whom are what I would call "ideal candidates". In fact, they don't even come close to it... Obama is a lousy President, but if these clowns are the only other choice, that surely isn't much of a choice... Is it?

    February 12, 2012 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  23. tim

    A 2 man race? Rick and Mitt put together don't equal 1 Obama...

    February 12, 2012 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  24. Mike

    Oh it's a two man race alright, and your not one one of them. You're nothing more the the male version of Sarah Palin, a clueless bible thumper.

    February 12, 2012 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  25. Stan

    Back in 2008 when Obama was elected, we were on a fast slide to a depression... remember folks? Three years later we're seeing light again. Look at Europe... that could have been us.

    Maybe in four years we can discuss another Republican for president, but we'd be nuts not to give Obama four more years. That Santorum guy, especially, would turn our country upside down. He said he'd cut Social Security and bomb Iran in his first year as president. Seriously. Now is not the time. Like I said, let's talk again in four years. Obama in November.

    February 12, 2012 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
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