Elections 2012: Rick Santorum’s Voters See Him As a Candidate Like Them

NEW YORK | Sunday, February 19th, 2012 11:18pm EDT

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum has struck a chord in the Rust Belt with his signature sweater vest and stories of his coal miner grandfather that is helping propel his once long-shot candidacy.

Elections 2012 Rick Santorums Voters See Him As a Candidate Like Them 01

Many supporters confess a lack of familiarity with Santorum's policy prescriptions but say they find him to be the Republican field's most likable entrant. "I don't know a lot about him," said Gary Henson, 32, the owner of a medical supply company in Columbus. "I like his demeanor. I like his personality." Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Although he is a millionaire, Santorum has found a common touch that has helped put him atop opinion polls in the industrial states of Michigan and Ohio and raised serious doubts about whether longtime front-runner Mitt Romney can win the Republican nomination to take on President Barack Obama in the November 6 election, reports Reuters.

A Detroit News poll, released last week, showed Santorum leading Romney 34 percent to 30 percent in Michigan, the state where Romney was born and where his father was governor.

A Quinnipiac poll had Santorum leading Romney 36 percent to 29 percent in Ohio. Michigan’s primary is on February 28 and Ohio votes on March 6.

Santorum’s portrayal of himself as the blue-collar Republican has managed to overshadow Romney’s jobs message in a part of the country troubled by unemployment.

Voters said they were coming to Santorum’s side because his everyman style and Christian faith reminded them of themselves.

“Maybe I think he is more like me,” said David Diyani, 58, a pastor at the Vineyard Church in Etna, Ohio. “I feel like I can relate to him.”

“He’s basically down-to-earth,” said Janice Thomas, 56, of Pickerington, Ohio, who is retired.

Santorum’s 2010 salary – $923,000 – places him squarely within the top 1 percent of income earners in America.

At the same time he can still draw a sharp contrast to Romney, a former Massachusetts governor whose fortune is estimated at up to $270 million and who often makes gaffes that show a lack of familiarity with ordinary Americans’ struggles.

“I do my own taxes,” Santorum said at the Detroit Economic Club on Thursday. “Heck, Romney paid half the taxes I did. He doesn’t do his own taxes. Maybe I should hire an accountant in the future.”

Santorum’s rise in the polls is also fueled by the same phenomenon that successively lifted Texas Governor Rick Perry, former pizza magnate Herman Cain, and Gingrich to the front of the pack: He is not Romney.

In a Pew Research Center poll released last Monday, 50 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning respondents nationwide said Romney was not a strong conservative.

In the Inside Michigan Poll, Michigan voters who said social issues were most important to them chose Santorum over Romney by 64 percent to 19 percent.

Faith is never far from the Santorum campaign. At a phone bank for Santorum in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, the Ten Commandments were nailed to the wall. Paintings of Jesus and Mary hung in a back room.

Meanwhile, an interview Sunday morning on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Mr Santorum defended his recent claims that prenatal testing results in abortions, that federally provided education was “anachronistic,” and that President Obama’s policies are not “based on the Bible.”

“I’ve repeatedly said I don’t question the president’s faith,” Santorum told host Bob Schieffer, denying what some have said was a signal that Santorum had challenged the legitimacy of Obama’s Christianity.

“I’ve repeatedly said that I believe the president’s Christian — he says he’s Christian. But I am talking about his worldview, the way he addresses problems in this country, and they’re different than most people view it in America.”

According to The Huff Post, earlier in the day on Saturday, Santorum had also said that health insurance plansshouldn’t be required to cover prenatal testing, because that testing results in more abortions, as well as contending that government-run public education was “anachronistic.”

“Free prenatal testing ends up in more abortions and therefore less care that has to be done, because we cull the ranks of the disabled in our society,” Santorum told the Ohio Christian Alliance conference.

“We’re talking about specifically prenatal testing, and specifically amniocentesis, which is a procedure that actually creates a risk of having a miscarriage when you have it, and is done for the purposes of identifying maladies of a child in the womb. And in many cases — and in fact in most cases — most physicians recommend, if there is a problem, they recommend abortion,” Santorum said.

Santorum also told Schieffer that government-provided education was not working and that the process ought to be customizable, like buying a car.

“I’m saying that local communities and parents should be the ones in control over public education, certainly not the federal government, and I think the state governments have not done a particularly good job in public education, either,” Santorum said.

Buying a car, by contrast he said, is “designed to meet the needs of a customer. Federally or state-run education is not designed to meet the needs of the customer.”

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