Politics

With Solid GOP States Coming Up, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich Fight on the Right

By: Kevin Derby | Posted: March 10, 2012 3:55 AM
Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum

Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum | Credit: Gage Skidmore - Flickr

With the race for the Republican presidential nomination turning to Kansas, which holds its caucus on Saturday, and Alabama and Mississippi, both with primaries on Tuesday, the two leading social conservatives left in the race -- Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum -- are starting to bash each other as they both hope to emerge as the main alternative to Mitt Romney.

While Romney won six of the 10 states up for grabs this week on Super Tuesday, Santorum won in North Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee and Gingrich triumphed in Georgia, a state he represented for two decades in Congress.

This week, the Gingrich camp pulled the plug on the candidate touring Kansas to focus on Alabama and Mississippi and there are signs that he could do well in both states on Tuesday. Gingrich’s only two victories in the race so far have come in the Deep South -- Georgia and South Carolina.

A poll from American Research Group released Friday finds Gingrich leading the pack of Republican presidential candidates in Mississippi, which has 40 delegates on the line. Gingrich takes 35 percent in the poll of likely primary voters, followed by Romney with 31 percent and Santorum in third with 20 percent. Ron Paul places fourth with 7 percent and 7 percent remain undecided. The poll of 600 likely Mississippi Republican primary voters was taken March 7-8 and had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

A Rasmussen Reports poll of Mississippi voters released Friday found Romney with a solid lead there. With the backing of much of the state GOP establishment -- including Gov. Phil Bryan and U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran -- Romney took 35 percent of likely primary voters. Santorum and Gingrich are tied with 27 percent apiece, followed by Paul with 6 percent and 1 percent backing other candidates, while 4 percent are undecided. The poll of 750 likely Mississippi Republican primary voters was taken March 8 and had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

Alabama has 50 delegates on the line and a Rasmussen Reports poll unveiled Friday shows it will be a tight battle. The poll of likely primary voters finds Gingrich leading with 30 percent, followed by Santorum with 29 percent and Romney with 28 percent. Ron Paul lags far behind with 7 percent, while 1 percent back other candidates and 6 percent are undecided. The poll of 750 likely Alabama Republican primary voters was taken March 8 and had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

Gingrich took off the gloves this week and turned his fire away from Romney onto Santorum, releasing a Web video attacking the former senator from Pennsylvania.

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“Senator Santorum poses as fiscally responsible, but he’s the one who broke the bank while in Senate leadership,” said Joe DeSantis, a spokesman for Gingrich. “During his six years in Senate leadership, Senator Santorum repeatedly compromised his principles and played the Washington game. As the poster child of the big government Republican Party that the American people rejected in 2006 and 2008, Senator Santorum is a compromised candidate who cannot offer the stark choice we need between President Obama’s big spending record.”

The Santorum team fired back on Gingrich on Friday, forwarding an article from Forbes that showed the former House speaker praised the health-care law Romney initiated in Massachusetts. The Santorum camp argued that it shows that both Gingrich and Romney supported mandates -- setting the stage for the federal health-care law that President Barack Obama signed in 2010.

The Santorum team also looked to get their own conservative credentials in order, noting on Friday that over 200 right-of-center leaders, including religious leader James Dobson and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, have backed their candidate.

"It is encouraging that conservatives are uniting behind Rick Santorum, the only candidate who can stop Mitt Romney and defeat Barack Obama,” said Hogan Gidley, a spokesman for Santorum, on Friday. “These leaders know that a strong, full-spectrum conservative is needed in this crucial election and Rick Santorum has been a consistent defender of conservatism in good times and in bad. They understand we cannot nominate a candidate who has also defended an individual health care mandate, supported cap-and-tax, or the Wall Street bailouts -- we need a bold contrast with Barack Obama. Rick Santorum has been their champion, and that is why they are uniting behind his candidacy to serve as our next commander in chief."



Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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