- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2012

Undeterred by Mitt Romney’s big weekend, Rick Santorum on Sunday called the bid for the Republican presidential nomination a “two-person race” and said the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign has grown “desperate” in its attempt to win over conservative voters.

“For him to suggest that I’m not the conservative in this race, you know, you reach a point where desperate people do desperate things,” the former Pennsylvania senator said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“He’s having trouble finding out how to go after someone who is a solid conservative, who’s got a great track record of attracting independents and Democrats and winning states as a conservative.”

Mr. Santorum is now turning his attention to upcoming states on the primary calendar, and he said he expects to do very well in Michigan, where Mr. Romney’s father served as governor. He’s also making campaign stops in Idaho, North Dakota, Arizona and other states where he hopes to recapture the momentum in a fluid race.


He also brushed off Mr. Romney’s weekend victories — a surprising first-place finish in the Washington Times/CPAC Straw Poll and a narrow win over Rep. Ron Paul in the Maine caucuses. Mr. Santorum said he put little effort into both contests and suggested the CPAC outcome was the result not of Mr. Romney’s popularity among conservatives but the front-runner’s highly effective political machine.

“Those straw polls … for years Ron Paul has won those because he trucks in a lot of people, pays for their tickets, and they come in and vote and they leave. We didn’t do that. We don’t do that. I don’t try to rig straw polls,” he said.

Mr. Santorum came in second in the straw poll with 31 percent to Mr. Romney’s 38 percent. It was a disappointing finish for Mr. Santorum, the longtime darling of social conservatives who was coming off impressive wins in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich finished third in the straw poll with 15 percent of the vote, while Mr. Paul was last with 12 percent.

A day before the Saturday contest, Mr. Romney tried to reassure the CPAC crowd that, despite the efforts of Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gingrich to paint him as a moderate, he’s committed to conservative principles.

“My family, my faith, my businesses — I know conservatism because I have lived conservatism,” he said. “I understand the battles we conservatives must fight because I have been on the front lines.”

But not everyone is convinced. Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said Mr. Romney has yet to provide his conservative credentials, and she chalked up his victories thus far to the fact that he’s a “great candidate.”

“I trust that his idea of conservatism is evolving,” she said. “I base this on a pretty moderate past that he has had, even in some cases a liberal past. I am not convinced, and I do not think the majority of GOP or independent voters are convinced. He needs to be able to articulate what his solutions are.”

As Mr. Romney struggles with the notion that he’s a less-than-authentic conservative, Mr. Santorum deals with criticism that he projects too much of a Boy Scout image, leading some to question whether he has the ability to wage an effective campaign against President Obama.

Mr. Santorum, however, is embracing that reputation.

“People have referred to me as the Richie Cunningham candidate: a little bit too clean and upstanding,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” referring to Ron Howard’s iconic character from the TV Series “Happy Days.”

Story Continues →