Republicans split between Romney, Santorum

WASHINGTON — A new poll shows Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney running even at the top of an increasingly challenging Republican race to unseat President Barack Obama in November, with their latest debate Wednesday night ushering in a new and more perhaps intense round of primary voting.



By (AP)

Published: Wed 22 Feb 2012, 7:52 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 10:57 AM

Obama has been seen as vulnerable on economic issues, but his numbers are rising as the economy shows signs of recovery from the Great Recession. Obama tops 50 percent support when matched against each of the Republican candidates and holds a significant lead over each of them, according to the Associated Press-GfK poll.

With the unemployment rate inching down and manufacturing and construction improving, the Republicans have turned toward social issues as a line of attack.

Wednesday’s debate will show off their adjusted approach and could affect next week’s votes in Arizona and Michigan as the state-by-state nominating process returns to full speed.

The AP-GfK poll, which showed Obama holding an 8-percentage-point lead over Romney, 9 points over Santorum and 10 points over former speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich or Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

Notably, the survey showed the president dominating among independents, a group central to Obama’s 2008 victory. Support for him had faltered in recent months, but according to the poll, 6 in 10 independents would choose Obama over any of the Republicans.

The survey found Republicans are divided on whether they’d rather see former Massachusetts governor Romney or former Pennsylvania senator Santorum capture the nomination. Gingrich and Paul are lagging well behind. The poll found 33 percent would most like to see Santorum get the nomination, while 32 percent prefer Romney. Gingrich and Paul each had 15 percent support.

Santorum’s surge, fueled by an anti-abortion and conservative Christian message, is a troubling sign for the better-funded Romney as the Republican race heads toward crucial votes on Feb. 28 in his home state of Michigan and Arizona. Another 10 states vote on Super Tuesday, March 6.

The tightening of the Republican race has raised the stakes for Wednesday night’s debate in Arizona. Previous debates have had a major impact. Gingrich’s short-lived rise to the top of the field depended on his performances. But Romney righted his campaign a month ago when he excelled in a pair of Florida debates after losing the South Carolina primary to Gingrich.

Polls have long shown Romney with a solid lead in Arizona, where all of 29 delegates to the national Republican party convention in August are reserved for the top vote-getter in the primary. As a result, none of the candidates has devoted much time or money to the state.

In Michigan, by contrast, Romney’s lead in surveys began eroding earlier this month when Santorum won upset victories in caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado and a nonbinding primary in Missouri on a single night. Now Romney campaigns as though he is behind. Not surprisingly, Romney, Santorum and their allies have poured money into television ads in Michigan — about $5 million combined.

Santorum’s recent victories despite Romney’s huge advantage in money and organizational strength have stunned the Republican establishment that Romney has methodically courted since his first bid for the party’s nomination in 2008.

Surprisingly, there’s evidence that Santorum’s comments about social issues may not have hurt him so far among women. He has been unapologetic in his opposition to abortion and his concerns about working moms, women in combat and contraception.

For all that, there’s little evident gender gap between Romney and Santorum, the AP-GfK poll showed. The poll found Santorum running even with Romney among both Republican men and women.

Romney campaigned in Michigan on Tuesday, seeking to make up ground on Santorum. Asked at a town-hall style rally how he would defend religious liberty, he said the Obama administration has “fought against religion” and sought to substitute a secular agenda for one grounded in faith.

“Unfortunately, possibly because of the people the president hangs around with, and their agenda, their secular agenda — they have fought against religion,” he said.

Obama’s campaign seized on the characterization, calling Romney’s comments disgraceful and likening them to recent comments by Santorum. The former Pennsylvania senator said recently the president holds a “phony theology,” then insisted he wasn’t attacking the president’s faith, but his environmental views.

The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted Feb. 16-20 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. It involved telephone interviews with 1,000 adults nationwide and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.


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