Santorum Catches Romney as Race Gets Nastier

Tuesday, 28 Feb 2012 12:23 PM

By Martin Gould

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Rick Santorum’s chances of snatching Mitt Romney’s home state of Michigan were looking good as the final poll before Tuesday’s Republican primary showed voters shifting dramatically to his camp.

Although the Democratic Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey gave Santorum just a one percentage point lead over Detroit-born Romney, it showed that the later people were polled, the more they supported him.

“It looks like things in Michigan are swinging back toward Rick Santorum in the final hours before the polls open,” said PPP President Dean Debnam.

The poll of 992 likely primary voters was taken on Sunday and Monday.
It showed Romney facing a dramatic collapse after a weekend of gaffes that again suggested that his massive $200 million fortune had placed him out of touch with ordinary voters.

On Friday, he said his wife, Ann, “drives a couple of Cadillacs” and on Sunday at the Daytona 500, he said that though he doesn’t follow NASCAR closely he has “some great friends who are team owners.”

During interviews on Sunday, likely voters gave Romney a favorability rating of 57-36, PPP said. Within 24 hours, that had dropped to 47-48.

Among the 82 percent of likely voters who had not cast their ballots early, Santorum enjoyed a whopping 10 point lead — 41 percent to 31 percent. The one bright spot for Romney in the poll was that he enjoys a 56-29 percent lead over the former senator from Pennsylvania among early voters.

PPP said it appeared that Santorum’s last-minute plea to Democrats to cross party lines and vote for him in a bid to stop Romney had a chance of working. PPP estimates that around 8 percent of voters in the GOP primaries will be Democrats, and among those he holds a 47-10 advantage. Romney described that tactic as “a new low” in the campaign.

“The big questions are whether Romney’s absentee vote lead is too large for Santorum to make up, and whether Democrats really will turn out to support Santorum in the GOP primary,” Debnam said.

“Santorum's likely to win election-day voters, but he's going to have to do it by a wide margin to erase the lead Romney has stored,” PPP said as it announced the figures.

The Michigan race essentially has become a two-man race, with the other two candidates, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trailing far behind. It is one of two primaries taking place on Tuesday. The second, in Arizona, is seen as a virtual shoo-in for Romney.

A loss in Michigan would be a huge embarrassment for Romney, who grew up in the state where his father, George, was governor for six years in the 1960s, and could bode ill for him in next week’s 10 Super Tuesday battles.

Both Romney and Santorum have pulled out all the stops to win the state. Romney tried to portray Santorum’s bid to woo Democrats as the latest in a series of dirty tricks. “Republicans have to recognize there’s a real effort to kidnap our primary process,” the former Massachusetts governor said.

Several members of the United Auto Workers said they planned to vote for either Santorum or Paul in a bid to keep the primary process going and force the GOP candidates  to concentrate on attacking each other rather than turning their fire on President Barack Obama, Bloomberg reported.

The prolonged primary battle, which shows no sign of letting up as all four contestants insist they will fight on, has Republican leaders increasingly worried that they are giving Obama a free ride as the candidates turn their fire on each other.

Sen. John McCain, the GOP candidate in 2008 told the Boston Herald, “This is like watching a Greek tragedy.”

McCain said negative campaigning and increasingly personal attacks “should have stopped long ago. Any utility from the debates has been exhausted, and now it’s just exchanging cheap shots and personal shots followed by super PAC attacks.”

The Arizona senator, who supports Romney, added, “I worry about how much damage has been done.”

Other Republican leaders now believe the four candidates have hurt each other so badly that the best way to beat Obama in November would be with someone new. Names that have been bandied about include Govs. Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Chris Christie of New Jersey, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, none of whom have shown great interest in the prospect.

Last week, Republican Maine Gov. Paul LePage said, “The candidates in this primary have beat themselves up so badly it would be nice to have a fresh face that we all could say, ‘Okay. The country deserves better than having people stand up and keep criticizing each other.’

“I would love to see a good, old-fashioned convention and a dark horse come out and do it in the fall.”

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