Elections 2012: Rick Santorum Poses a Growing Threat to Mitt Romney

Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, has emerged in recent weeks as the main conservative alternative to the more moderate Romney in the battle for the right to face Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 6 election.

Santorum is posing a serious threat to Romney with a blue collar-themed message that is finding some appeal in economically hard-hit Midwestern states. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

The latest PPP Poll showed Mr Santorum still four points clear on the back of his conservative support, with 48 per cent of voters saying his beliefs are similar to theirs, compared with just 32 per cent for Mr Romney, a Mormon management consultant, The Telegraph reports.

The former senator from Pennsylvania is aiming for a knockout blow to Mitt Romney in one of his rival’s strongholds.

Santorum told supporters in the gritty Great Lakes harbor town of Muskegon that he was anticipating “what could be a sound heard round the world here in Michigan” next week.

Santorum, after wins in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado, is suddenly Romney’s main challenger in the state-by-state race to determine which Republican will face Obama in the November 6 election, says Reuters.

Recent polls have shown Santorum with a small lead over Romney in Michigan, where Romney grew up and his father was an auto executive and governor.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who was long the front-runner, finds himself struggling ahead of key contests in Michigan and Arizona on February 28 and the March 6 “Super Tuesday” when 10 states vote.

Romney, speaking at a bioscience company in Ohio, a key Super Tuesday state, attempted to raise doubts about Santorum’s tenure in Washington and allay concerns about his own candidacy among conservatives.

“One of the people I’m running against, Senator Santorum, goes to Washington, calls himself a budget hawk, and then after he’s been there a while says he’s no longer a budget hawk. Well, I am,” Romney said.

“He voted five times to raise the debt ceiling without getting compensating cuts in the spending. When Republicans go to Washington and spend like Democrats, you’re going to have a lot of spending, and that’s what we’ve seen over the last several years,” he said.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Santorum also campaigned in Ohio, where he appealed to blue-collar voters.

“We need someone who understands, who comes from the coal fields, who comes from the steel mills, who understands what ordinary working people in America need to provide for themselves and their families,” Santorum told a cheering crowd of several hundred in Steubenville, a once-booming steel town.

At an event later in Holland, Mich., Santorum escalated his attack on Obama over matters of faith and politics.

“When you have the president of the United States referring to the freedom of religion, and you have the secretary of State referring to the freedom of religion, not as the freedom of religion but the freedom of worship, you should get very nervous, very nervous,” he told students at Hope College, a Reformed Church school.

“Because there’s a lot of tyrants around the world who will talk about freedom of worship, but they won’t talk about freedom of religion. Freedom of worship is what you do within the four walls of the church.”

“Freedom of religion is what you do outside the four walls of the church. What the president is now seeming to mold, in the image of other elitists who think that they know best, is to limit the role of faith in the public square and your role to live that faith out in your public and private lives,” he added.

In 2008, Romney won Michigan by 9 percentage points over John McCain, the eventual nominee. A defeat in Michigan — or even a narrow victory — would damage his candidacy heading into the big round of Super Tuesday primaries the following week.

Romney was born in the state and grew up in the Detroit area, and his family name is familiar, particularly to older voters; his late father, George Romney, was a governor and top auto industry executive.

An average of recent polls gives Santorum a lead over Romney in Ohio of 33 percent to 26 percent. In Michigan, Santorum had built a big lead but a Public Policy Polling survey said Santorum now leads Romney in the state by a small margin, 37 percent to 33 percent.

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