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. Geoffrey Hamilton

    Totally dismissing the fact that Ron Paul beat you in Maine... Its a 2 man race and you're in 3rd... I will never vote for Santorum, infact if he wins the nomination... me and just about every other independent, middle, or other 3rd party supporter will vote for Obama.

    February 13, 2012 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
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