Santorum: I Can Beat Romney in Two-Man Race

Sunday, 04 Mar 2012 08:40 PM

 

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Heading into the crucial, make-or-break Super Tuesday contest, Rick Santorum said the race is all about "survival" now and that it's ultimately a two-man race between him and ostensible front-runner Mitt Romney.

“Ultimately for us to win this race, it’s going to have to narrow down to two. And I think that will happen eventually,” Santorum said, speaking to reporters outside Corky’s BBQ, a Memphis institution where the candidate ate ribs with his family.

Santorum shrugged off one of Sunday's major developments — that two key Republican congressional leaders from states that vote Tuesday—Majority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia and Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma —endorsed Romney.

“To be honest, I don’t really call a lot of folks and ask for endorsements,” Santorum said. “That’s not the kind of campaign we’re running. We’re running the insurgent campaign. He’s running the insider campaign.

"This is a game of survival and we are doing as well as anybody in all of these races where we are either first or second in most of the states," Santorum told reporters.

Santorum and the remaining three competitors head into Super Tuesday's voting bonanza with their eyes on one or two key states that could tilt the race in their favor.

Voters in 10 states across America will have their say on Tuesday in a potentially pivotal day in the see-saw contest to see who will take on President Barack Obama in the Nov. 6 general election.

Ohio, a working class swing state in the so-called Rust Belt that is crucial to Obama's re-election chances, is considered the big prize. Polls show Romney and Santorum locked together there in a statistical tie.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, looking to reset his faltering bid, has pulled ahead in his home state of Georgia, while a new Rasmussen poll showed Romney closing on Santorum, a staunch Christian conservative, in Tennessee.

With 437 delegates up for grabs — nearly 40 percent of the total needed to secure the nomination — Romney and Santorum have been criss-crossing the country to stake their claims.

Super Tuesday essentially ended the Republican nomination battle in 2008, when Romney capitulated and Senator John McCain went on to become the nominee.

Experts are not expecting such a clear outcome this time around.

Romney has gone ahead in the early delegate count, but Santorum, and even Gingrich, loom in the wings as potential upsets.

Romney has won eight states, including the last five in a row. Santorum has won three — four if you count what amounted to a beauty contest in Missouri. Gingrich has won just South Carolina, while Texas Congressman Ron Paul is yet to win.

Romney's bulging war chest means he can outmuscle his rivals, but his opponents see hope in his inability to connect with core Republicans, who doubt his conservative credentials.

"He is a long way from having closed out this race," Gingrich told ABC's "This Week" program Sunday.

Delegates are awarded by each state in the complex Republican party nominating process, sometimes on a proportional and/or non-binding basis, until one candidate reaches the 1,144 delegate threshold required for victory.

If the race continues to be tight it is possible that no winner will emerge before the Republican convention at the end of August, in which case a victor may have to be decided by backroom brokering.

Cantor's endorsement was seen as the strongest sign yet that the Republican establishment wants Romney to seal the deal quickly, avoiding a long and bitter fight that would help Obama.

Santorum has to recover from missteps in February, when his comments about birth control and separation of church and state led mainstream Republicans to question whether he was too far to the right for general election voters.

But Romney has suffered from repeated gaffes of his own, largely ones related to his wealth that risk making him appear out of touch with ordinary Americans.

Andra Gillespie, associate professor of political science at Emory University, said Romney's tin ear could end up costing him in crucial states.

"Romney does have a Rust Belt problem. He has a hard time showing empathy. It looks like he doesn't understand the needs of the working class," she told AFP.

One important factor is what Gingrich, who has been vying with Santorum to be the authentic conservative alternative to Romney, does if he has a disappointing Super Tuesday.

"If all [Gingrich] does is win Georgia, and then finishes a lousy third every place else . . . at what point does he get out?" wondered veteran strategist Neil Oxman, co-founder of The Campaign Group.

This was certainly on Santorum's mind as he campaigned in Tennessee.

"For us to ultimately win, this race is going to have to narrow down to two. And I think it is going to happen eventually," he said.

© AFP 2014

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