Santorum doubles support in race against Romney

Wed, Feb 15, 2012, 00:00

THE FORMER Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum has tied with or surpassed Mitt Romney as front runner in the Republican nomination race in three national opinion polls over the past two days.

The CBS News/ New York Timespoll published yesterday shows Mr Santorum with 30 per cent of the vote, compared to 27 per cent for Mr Romney. Mr Romney is static, having scored 28 per cent in the same poll a month ago, while Mr Santorum, on the strength of wins in Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri, has nearly doubled his support, from 16 to 30 per cent.

Mr Santorum has called Mr Romney “desperate” and implied the Romney campaign rigged the straw poll won by the former Massachusetts governor at a conservative conference last weekend by purchasing entry tickets for participants.

Mr Santorum leads among self-described conservatives, Tea Party supporters and evangelical Christians. A Pew Research Centre poll shows Mr Romney has failed to convince voters he is, as he put it recently, “a severe conservative”. In November, 33 per cent of Republicans told Pew Mr Romney was not a “strong conservative”. That has risen to 50 per cent.

Mr Romney last week called Mr Santorum and Newt Gingrich “Republicans who acted like Democrats” for voting to lift the debt ceiling and for seeking earmarks or “pork barrel” funding for their constituencies when in Congress.

Mr Santorum has supplanted Mr Gingrich as the conservative challenger to Mr Romney and is viewed by some commentators as the most serious threat yet. Unlike Texas governor Rick Perry, Mr Santorum is articulate in debates. Unlike Mr Gingrich, he has impeccable credentials as a faithful husband and father of seven.

Mr Santorum has credibility, having been elected as a Republican in a Democratic state. Unlike Mr Romney, he has working class origins; his grandfather, an Italian immigrant, was a coal miner.

Moderate Republicans are alarmed by Mr Santorum’s hardline approach to abortion and gay rights and by comments interpreted as sexist. “The radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness,” Mr Santorum wrote in a 2005 book.

The conservative National Review Onlineyesterday suggested Mr Gingrich should step aside in favour of Mr Santorum. “When [Gingrich] led Santorum in the polls, he urged the Pennsylvanian to leave the race,” it said. “On his own arguments, the proper course for him now is to endorse Santorum and exit.”

In an attempt to challenge Mr Romney on his own turf, Mr Santorum will tomorrow address the Detroit Economic Club about his plans to help the manufacturing sector. Mr Romney was born in Michigan and is the son of a former governor of the state, which he won in the 2008 primaries. Arizona and Michigan will hold the next primaries, on February 28th.

The struggle between Barack Obama and Republican lawmakers continued yesterday when the president urged Congress to extend a payroll tax cut that adds $83 per month to the average American’s pay cheque.

“This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class,” Mr Obama said at the White House. “The last thing we need is for Washington to stand in the way of America’s comeback.”

Republicans grudgingly extended the payroll tax cut in December and have tentatively dropped demands that a further extension be balanced by cuts in government spending.

In a $3.8 trillion budget plan for 2012 announced on Monday, Mr Obama asked for $1.4 trillion in higher taxes on the rich, prompting accusations of “class warfare”.

Congress has not passed a budget since April 2009, and Mr Obama’s latest proposal is doomed in this election year.

The president would like to establish a minimum 30 per cent income tax for those earning more than $1 million a year, increase capital gains tax from 15 to 20 per cent and raise the top income tax rate from 35 to 39.6 per cent.

“All we’re getting here is more spending, more borrowing, more debt,” said the chairman of the house budget committee, Paul Ryan, a Republican who last year drafted a draconian deficit reduction plan. “It’s a political plan for the president’s re-election,” he said.

Mr Romney noted Mr Obama promised to halve the deficit by the end of his first term in office. Mr Obama’s proposed budget represents a 15 per cent reduction.