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. mary

    If this guy is the best alternative to President Obama, I'll take President Obama!

    February 13, 2012 06:59 am at 6:59 am |
  2. Jesus was a space alien

    A liberal, a moderate, and Rick Santorum walk into a bar. The bartender says we don't allow dogs in the bar.

    February 13, 2012 07:20 am at 7:20 am |
  3. MAVVV

    Its either Ron Paul or wife and I going with Obamammaaa...........Ron Paul will bring GOP back from its dirty filthy $$$ grubby self. Let us all try to force media to focus on somebody who has plan and has stood the test of time being real. Come on sheep.....why arent U mad enough ? Why did Face Nation only use 8 minutes asking Ron Paul about Rommeny? What joke...........

    February 13, 2012 07:24 am at 7:24 am |
  4. ChumBucket

    what an overblown ego!

    If somone told me it way a 2 man race, I'd have thought Romnie and Gingrich.

    Santorum has absolutely zero chance.

    February 13, 2012 07:24 am at 7:24 am |
  5. Jesus Christ

    The big government conservative really thinks he has a chance.

    February 13, 2012 08:13 am at 8:13 am |
  6. tony

    @ Wake up people -everyone needs to rally around santorum because he can defeat the PRESIDENT. uh ha ha uh ha ha fart ha ha ha haaaaaaaaaaaaaaa snort haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa belch haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. KEEP ON DREAMING

    February 13, 2012 08:16 am at 8:16 am |
  7. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    Yes, it is a two-person race. President Obama and Governor Romney. If the Republican Party loses what little sanity it has left (after allowing Sarah Palin to singlehandedly destroy their credibility) and nominates Santorum as their Presidential Candidate, then it will be a one-person race. Just President Obama.

    February 13, 2012 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  8. jb1963

    These two will fight to the end. They both want to be the guy who lost to Obama.

    February 13, 2012 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  9. Undertow1959

    In classic fashion, Santormonious has displaced Newt Gingrinch as the most arrogant candidate running for the Republican nomination. Unfortunately, like Gingrinch, Santorum has serious negatives.He is not a fiscal conservative but instead a big government republican (see his record in the Senate from 2000 to 2006), he wants to use government force to promote his version of social engineering (he thinks sexual behavior between consenting adults should be a matter of public policy), and of course he received a defeat of historic proportions the last time he ran for office (see Pennsylvania Senate Race 2006 and 18% differential). As people look at his record as a Theocrat and Big Government Republican, they will realize this version of "anybody but Romney" will leave a film of santorum and they will vote elsewhere.

    February 13, 2012 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  10. Al-NY,NY

    Sorry Rick, but neither of you will beat Obama in November.

    February 13, 2012 08:57 am at 8:57 am |
  11. Justin

    Every week there is different two man race.

    February 13, 2012 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  12. Dave

    No, this is a two-clown race. One clown is a right-wing religious zealot who wants to turn this country into a theocracy. The other clown is a silver-spooned used car salesman without an ounce of character or conviction. They do have some things in common: both are running negative campaigns because neither one has an original idea between them.

    February 13, 2012 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  13. Michael

    It would be a huge mistake to underestimate Santorum's conservative Christian fan base. I've lived around conservative Christians all my life. These are people who believe that the voices in their heads are the Holy Spirit whispering to them. They believe they are called to carry out God's will on earth, justifying all means to accomplish that end. They see the First Amendment as a liberal conspiracy, and the American public as a bastion of sinners who need to be saved from themselves. A Santorum nomination would validate the entire conservative Christian agenda and put the Republican Party squarely under their control. His election would be unthinkable, but don't think for a moment it couldn't happen. These people are shrewd, savvy, and well-funded. They are experts at demagoguery and fear-mongering. They think God is on their side, and that to challenge them is to challenge God.

    February 13, 2012 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  14. v_mag

    The only thing I need to remember in order to decide who to vote for is that they are all from the party of George W. Bush. Not one of them has criticized Bush, who is ultimately responsible for crashing the economy and making America even more hated in the world than it was, with wars and torture. You look at at Repugnant, you're looking at Bush.

    February 13, 2012 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  15. nytw

    Santorum will take away our religious freedom to worship God as we chose. He will require all Americans to worship the pope.

    February 13, 2012 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  16. Solid

    If anyone reading this honestly believes Santorum would come anywhere close to beating Obama in the presidential election, you really are the most delusional individual I think I've ever not met.

    February 13, 2012 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  17. steven harnack

    I think that I've finally figured out the "take over of the economy" spiel. Republicans are just telling us that insurance companies own this country, so if health care decisions are taken away from them then they are losing some of their power to control the people. Of course Republicans would object to that!

    February 13, 2012 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  18. Robert

    he does know he just up and fail-boated Maine, right??

    February 13, 2012 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  19. DeeNYC

    This is a race to see who is the biggest loser. None of them have a chance.

    February 13, 2012 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  20. Expat American

    Romney is going to win the nomination.
    Then he is going to pick Santorum to win over Conservatives.
    Then this ticket is going to lose in November.

    February 13, 2012 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  21. Matt

    "The best alternative to a secular socialist is a Christian socialist." Outstanding...this is why i typically vote 3rd. party. I know my candidates won't win, but so long as a mainstream candidate from either party wins, we all lose.

    February 13, 2012 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  22. sensible

    .......the Sanitorium speaks......crazy talk.

    February 13, 2012 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  23. Bessy

    For any of you " doubting Thomas's " out there that think that Rick Santorum is so great, well, for JUST ONE of his little schemes: Google, Rick Santorum school scandal and read about one reason why he was a shame to the state of Pa.

    February 13, 2012 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  24. Former Republican, now an Independent

    Sorry Rick, but it's time you came clean with the American voters and told the truth. The republicans really don't have a best alternative to President Obama.

    February 13, 2012 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  25. jude

    The American Legislative Exchange Council was founded in 1973 by the right-wing activist Paul Weyrich; its big funders include Exxon Mobil, the Olin and Scaife families and foundations tied to Koch Industries. Many of the largest corporations are represented on its board.

    There is nothing illegal or unethical about ALEC’s work, except that it further demonstrates the pervasive influence of corporate money and right-wing groups on the state legislative process. There is no group with any comparable influence on the left. Lawmakers who eagerly do ALEC’s bidding have much to answer for. Voters have a right to know whether the representatives they elect are actually writing the laws, or whether the job has been outsourced to big corporate interests. .

    February 13, 2012 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
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