JEFFREY BROWN: On this Presidents Day, the Republicans who would be president drove home their points in key upcoming primary states. And the latest seeming front-runner drew crowds and criticism.
Rick Santorum's rise in the polls continued today heading into next week's primary contest and two weeks before Super Tuesday. The new Gallup tracking poll showed Santorum leading with 36 percent of Republican voters. Mitt Romney is eight points back at 28 percent. Next is Newt Gingrich at 13 percent. And Ron Paul comes in fourth at 11 percent.
Polls out yesterday showed Santorum ahead in Oklahoma and in Ohio, an upcoming Super Tuesday state where he grabbed support from the state's attorney general, who previously endorsed Mitt Romney.
In Ohio today, the former Pennsylvania senator continued a line of attack against President Obama which he had begun yesterday, arguing that global warming is -- quote -- "not climate science, but political science."
RICK SANTORUM (R): They have nothing to do with real cost-benefit analysis, real understanding of how we have to value both the environment and its impact on man and the world. They have radical ideas.
JEFFREY BROWN: Over the weekend, Santorum also drew attention for how he described -- quote -- "the president's agenda" at a rally in Columbus, Ohio.
RICK SANTORUM: It's about some phony ideal, some phony ideal, some phony theology, oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yesterday, on ABC's "This Week," Obama campaign strategist Robert Gibbs said the comments went too far.
ROBERT GIBBS, Obama campaign strategist: I can't help but think that those remarks are well over the line. It's wrong. It's destructive. It makes it virtually impossible to solve the problems that we all face together as Americans.
BOB SCHIEFFER, "Face the Nation": He's the man of the hour in Republican politics.
JEFFREY BROWN: But that same day, on CBS's "Face the Nation," Santorum defended his remarks.
RICK SANTORUM: I wasn't suggesting the president is not a Christian. I accept the fact that the president is a Christian. I just said that when you have a world view that elevates the Earth above man and says that we can't take those resources because we're going to harm the Earth by things that are -- that frankly are just not scientifically proven. . .
JEFFREY BROWN: Meanwhile, Santorum's Republican opponents continue to campaign in crucial Super Tuesday states.
In Ohio today, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney insisted he's the only candidate capable of beating President Obama in November.
MITT ROMNEY (R): I have had the experience of leading. I have led four different enterprises. I happen to think that one of the criteria for selecting a president ought to be, has this person led something before? Our current president had not. And I think we've seen the consequence of that in some of the errors he's made.
JEFFREY BROWN: In Tulsa, Okla., former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said he's not planning on drop out of the race any time soon. And continuing to focus on states with caucuses, Texas Rep. Ron Paul turned his attention on North Dakota.
Today, his campaign said it had raised $4.5 million in January. Nonetheless, most attention today was on Santorum, who has seen his stock rise since winning contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri three weeks ago. That scrutiny will only increase as his numbers rise in Romney's home state of Michigan, site of one of next week's two key primary contests.
And late today, the newest Gallup poll was released showing Santorum up by 10 points over Mitt Romney.
And we take a closer look now at Rick Santorum's rise with Susan Page, Washington bureau chief of USA Today, and from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College.
Susan, start with some context here. Who is Rick Santorum speaking to or reaching out to? And what kind of reception is getting on the trail?
SUSAN PAGE, USA Today: He's getting a great reception among Republican primary voters. This is a group of voters that is very conservative, lots of Tea Party supporters. A majority of them in some states like Michigan say they are evangelical or born-again Christians.
So when he talks about public education or about global warming in the way that he's doing, this has really drawn him big crowds and brought him to a standing in the poll and sustained a standing in the poll that is pretty remarkable.
On the other hand, there are big risks for him in audiences that are also hearing what he's saying. And that would be more moderate Republicans and especially the people who you turn to when you're the nominee in a general election, like independent voters and women voters. They may be hearing some of the things he's saying and thinking, is this someone I would really feel comfortable with in the Oval Office?
JEFFREY BROWN: I'm also wondering after so many months where the economy was the main focus of all this, to turn to these kinds of issues -- you just named some of them -- but also in the past couple of days prenatal care, you mentioned public school education, birth control, health care mandate, does he see these as these issues in a sense, as opposed to economic issues?
SUSAN PAGE: The social conservative issues have been his calling card at the beginning, have sort of made him different, say, from Mitt Romney.
But he has been trying to look like a more three-dimensional candidate, to talk about foreign policy, for instance, policy toward Iran, to talk about manufacturing policy. I was with him in Detroit last Thursday when he addressed the Detroit Economic Club, talking about the deficit, talking about economic policy, talking about the manufacturing sector and how to encourage it.
And he's had some appeal in his home state of Pennsylvania, as I'm sure Terry will talk about, with the kind of voters, the kind of blue-collar voters that predominate in places like Michigan and Pennsylvania and in Ohio.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Terry Madonna, let me bring you in there. You've followed Santorum for a long time. Is this -- the appeal to conservatives and talking about social issues, has that been part of who he is for as long as he's been in politics?
TERRY MADONNA, Center for Politics and Public Affairs, Franklin and Marshall College: Yeah. Well, Susan is exactly right.
I mean, when he started, for example, in 1980, when he defeated an incumbent Democrat, no one gave then Senator Santorum -- or then Rick Santorum, lawyer Santorum, a chance to win that race in a Democratic district. And he amassed lots of volunteers, many of whom were pro-life.
Then he won his Senate seat in 1994 with the help of the Christian coalition. And he was solidly pro-life. But the fact of the matter is, until you get to the late 1990s, it doesn't become sort of an overarching, overreaching issue, compelling issue, the way it certainly has become in the last decade.
He talked about fiscal matters, government reform, tax policies. That's what got him elected in 1990 to the House and what got him elected in 1994 in the Senate. The other thing that Susan points out that is, I think, very important, he's the only one of the four Republican candidates who had the niche among social conservatives.
He could always sort of rely on them. And in the polls that I have done and others have done, Tea Party activists are overwhelmingly social conservatives. So, he could reach that blend of fiscal conservatism, small government, limited government, get rid of the deficits. at the same time, he could talk about social issues.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, Terry, what about as a legislator in the state and then in the Senate? What became the key sort of issues that he worked on or became associated with? One was welfare reform, right?
TERRY MADONNA: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, he was the floor leader for welfare reform.
By the way, that's the first time we really see this aspect of sort of the religious issues, moral issues come to play, when he fought for and insisted on faith-based grants and tax cut -- you know, use of the money in welfare to go to faith-based organizations.
As a senator he did -- and his critics are accurate -- he did fight and brought home hundreds of millions of dollars for Pennsylvania projects. He supported minimum wage. He was never cozy or close to the unions, but he was certainly helpful to U.S. Steel. He had worked on projects for the pharmaceutical and technology industries in the southeastern part of the state.
He was a typical sort of light-blue, if I can, senator who could not ignore the interests of the state.
JEFFREY BROWN: Okay.
Well, now, Susan, you talked about some of the risks of getting into some of these issues. Now you have, of course, the other Republicans hitting back. You have, I guess what you would call the Republican mainstream sort of expressing some worry, some publicly, some, you know, behind the scenes. What are you hearing there?
SUSAN PAGE: I think there's tremendous concern among Republicans in Washington, among elected officials, including members of the House who are going to run, be running with whoever the presidential nominee is in November, about Rick Santorum and his ability to appeal to a broader electorate than the electorate we see in, say, the Iowa caucuses.
I think there is talk about whether -- if Rick Santorum wins in Michigan next Tuesday, that would be a catastrophic event for Mitt Romney and raise questions about a rather smooth path to the nomination perhaps for Rick Santorum. And would the Republican elites then try to step in, in some way, draft somebody new to get into this race?
Or could you get to a convention where no one had a mathematical clinch on the nomination and you might have negotiations about who was going to get that prize?
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Terry Madonna, I suppose one thing that Republican leaders would be worried about is exactly what happened to Rick Santorum in 2006. He lost, and he lost real big, right, in his home state. What happened there?
TERRY MADONNA: Yes, by -- yes, by -- well, yes, in 2006 by 18 points to Bob Casey.
Well, it was the -- no doubt about it, the Democratic wave, the Iraq war election. There was also his social conservatism hurt him -- back to Susan's pointing, really hurt him in the southeastern part of Pennsylvania, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where -- Now, Sen. Casey was pro-life, just as Rick Santorum was, but I think Sen. Santorum's outspokenness and some of the provocative things that he had said about gays, about abortion and Supreme Court decisions, and about women's role in the work force, very provocative.
Sen. Casey used some of that against him in the campaign. And then there was his residency. He had a home in Virginia. Sen. Casey made the argument that he wasn't a resident of Pennsylvania anymore and his kids were going to school, paid for by the taxpayers of Pennsylvania while they lived in Virginia. It was a cyber-school.
All in all, I mean, it wasn't a good year for Santorum. It's like the revolution had simply run away from him. And he lost in the vital areas of the states, in Pennsylvania and Virginia and Florida and Missouri, that -- that Republicans are going to have -- a Republican candidate is going to have to win or he's not going to win the electoral votes of those swing states.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, Susan, just briefly, what about President Obama and his advisers? Do you sense they're taking Rick Santorum a little more seriously now?
SUSAN PAGE: Well, taking him a little more seriously because he looks a little more serious.
But I have got to say that they continue to think that Mitt Romney is the stronger general election candidate. And the longer Rick Santorum stays in this beating up on Mitt Romney, that's fine with them. If he ends up being the nominee, I think they think that would all right as well, although of course there is some history for watching out what you wish for.
I remember the first campaign I covered in 1980 where the Carter people were so pleased that Ronald Reagan had the nomination. That didn't turn out the way they had hoped.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Susan Page, Terry Madonna, thank you both very much.
SUSAN PAGE: Thank you, Jeff.