Polls: Romney, Santorum in Dead Heat

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  February 14, 2012 at 9:42 AM EDT

Romney, Santorum signs; photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Campaign signs for Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney line a road in New Hampshire. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Rick Santorum is riding high in the polls these days.

A new New York Times/CBS News survey found the former Pennsylvania senator leading Mitt Romney nationally, 30 percent to 27 percent. Texas Rep. Ron Paul was third with 12 percent, followed by former House speaker Newt Gingrich at 10 percent.

Another national poll released Monday by the Pew Research Center showed a similar dynamic, with Santorum ahead of Romney, 30 percent to 28 percent, among Republican and Republican-leaning voters.

A Gallup poll released Monday had Romney at 32 percent and Santorum at 30 percent, within the four-point margin of error.

Santorum’s support in the Times/CBS survey nearly doubled in the past month, with the former two-term senator receiving a boost from conservatives, Tea Party supporters and white evangelicals.

Nearly four in 10 conservatives (38 percent) named Santorum as their top choice, compared with 24 percent of respondents who picked Romney.

Santorum’s rise follows his surprise sweep of nominating contests last week in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, and frames the GOP race as a two-man fight heading into upcoming primaries in Arizona and Michigan.

Given Santorum’s ties to the Midwest and focus on Rust Belt issues such as rebuilding the manufacturing industry, Michigan seems to be better terrain for him, despite the fact that Romney was born in the state and his father was a popular governor there in the 1960s.

The New York Times’ Katharine Seelye looks at how Santorum is trying to move away from social and cultural issues and address economic concerns, given the toll the recession has taken on Michigan.

Santorum got a little editorial boost Monday when the influential National Review called on Gingrich to end his presidential bid. From the op-ed, “Santorum’s turn”:

[I]t would be a grave mistake for the party to make someone with such poor judgment and persistent unpopularity its presidential nominee. It is not clear whether Gingrich remains in the race because he still believes he could become president next year or because he wants to avenge his wounded pride: an ambiguity that suggests the problem with him as a leader. When he led Santorum in the polls, he urged the Pennsylvanian to leave the race. On his own arguments the proper course for him now is to endorse Santorum and exit.

The piece concludes with a thought on Romney, highlighting his business background and credentials on the campaign trail: “It isn’t enough.”

But Romney’s forces are investing heavily in an attempt to return him to strong front-runner status later this month.

The New York Times’ Jeremy Peters reports that the pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, is about to put nearly half a million dollars into Michigan, where Santorum hopes to play on Feb. 28. From the story:

According to someone who tracks Republican media spending, Restore Our Future has committed just over $470,000 for commercials starting Tuesday and set to run through Feb. 20. That marks the group’s largest purchase yet in Michigan, where it will have spent more than $700,000 on ads by next week.

The move by Restore Our Future comes as a survey released Monday by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling put Santorum ahead of Romney by 15 points in Michigan, 39 percent to 24 percent.

Politico’s Alex Burns has more on the super PAC’s efforts elsewhere:

[Restore our Future] has also purchased airtime in West Virginia and put new money into Ohio and Arizona, where it was already on the air. The source said the super PAC continues to buy time in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia, where ROF started making reservations this afternoon.

The buying is not complete, and we don’t know whether the ads are pro-Romney or negative spots targeting his opponents. But already this looks like the outline of an air campaign on a scale we’ve not yet seen in the 2012 race, aimed at bringing down the hammer of Romney’s resources against his opponents on a national level.

PAYROLL TAX PUSH

Seeking to avoid a contentious and potentially damaging political fight similar to the one that marked the end of the first session of the 112th Congress, Republican leaders in the House announced Monday they would support a proposal to extend the payroll tax cut through the end of the year without offsetting cuts in spending.

The word came from the top three party members in the chamber: House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

As part of last year’s December compromise, which extended the payroll tax cut for just two months, Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress appointed members to a conference committee aimed at finding a year-long solution to the issue.

House GOP leaders insisted Monday that President Obama and congressional Democrats had not lived up to their end of the bargain.

“Because the president and Senate Democratic leaders have not allowed their conferees to support a responsible bipartisan agreement, today House Republicans will introduce a backup plan that would simply extend the payroll tax holiday for the remainder of the year while the conference negotiations continue regarding offsets, unemployment insurance, and the ‘doc fix,’” Reps. Boehner, Cantor and McCarthy said in a joint statement.

House Democrats warned Monday that the GOP measure could have harmful consequences. “The Republican plan to decouple the payroll tax jeopardizes both the ability of seniors to see their Medicare doctors and benefits for millions of Americans who lost their jobs. There is no reason all three of these priorities cannot proceed at the same time as both the House and Senate agreed,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.

For its part, the White House also intends to get in on the act, with the president pushing again to get his supporters to pressure Congress. Communications director Dan Pfeiffer wrote in a blog post Tuesday morning that Mr. Obama will host an event starring the people he showcased in December who talked about what $40 per paycheck means for their families.

“At the end of this month, if Congress doesn’t act, taxes are set to go up on 160 million hardworking Americans, and the President believes that lawmakers must prevent this middle class tax hike without drama or delay,” Pfeiffer wrote.

Mr. Obama also spoke directly to the American people in a video released via the official White House mailing list.

“Your voices changed the debate….Once again I need you, all of you, to speak out,” he said, urging people to use the #40dollars Twitter hashtag to reprise the fight. Watch the president’s video here.

President Obama plans to deliver remarks on extending the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits during a 10:40 a.m. ET event Tuesday at the White House.

Continuing the payroll tax cut, which reduces the withholding rate an individual pays from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent, would cost about $100 billion over the next 10 months. Republicans had demanded the tax break be joined by spending cuts to bolster Social Security, which is financed through the withholding tax.

The price tag for extending unemployment insurance benefits and the Medicare reimbursement rate for doctors would cost an additional $50 billion, which Republicans still want to be offset.

How those issues will be resolved remains unclear, but one thing does appear to be certain: Neither party wants to be seen as the cause of a tax increase in an election year.

2012 LINE ITEMS

  • Stuart Rothenberg and Susan Page talked with Judy Woodruff on Monday’s NewsHour about why Romney hasn’t been able to close the deal with conservatives. Watch the segment.

  • In his latest column, Stu (@stupolitics) also explores the question: Just how much does Gingrich hate Romney?

  • Talking Points Memo’s Benjy Sarlin details the rules governing delegates should the Republicans head to a brokered nominating convention.

  • Alice Stewart, who served as Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann’s presidential spokeswoman and who had worked for Mike Huckabee during the 2008 cycle, has signed on with Team Santorum.

  • The Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch identifies the four Cabinet members who plan to attend super PAC fundraisers. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk have all indicated they would be open to participation in activities designed to help the nascent Democratic super PACs, like Priorities USA Action, raise money, iWatch’s Michael Beckel writes.

  • The DC for Obama group is soliciting supporters for “a series of fundraising events,” using the proliferation of super PACs as a hook. The group, not affiliated with the official Obama campaign, wrote in an email that Romney’s super PAC raised $30 million last year and that the conservative Koch brothers plan to spend big for the election. “To have any hope of competing against the deep pocketed ideologues seeking to buy this election every one of us will need to give what we can to help reelect Barack Obama,” the email read.

  • Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Romney supporter, blasted Santorum on Monday for his questioning of women serving in military combat. McDonnell’s oldest daughter Jeanine was a platoon leader in the Iraq War. From a Monday National Journal post:

McDonnell, an up-and-comer in the GOP, told CNN this morning that Santorum was off base when he said recently that women may fail in their missions in combat because of the “emotions that are involved.” The first-term governor has a daughter who was a platoon leader in Iraq, with 25 men serving under her command. When daughter Jeanine McDonnell would call home and relay some of her harrowing experiences in a war zone, he said, “I did get a little bit emotional. But she didn’t. She got the job done.”

Reiterating comments he made at the annual Conservative Political Action Committee meeting over the weekend, McDonnell said, “She did a great job. She was in some very risky situations. And yet she endured and led and I’m proud of her.”

In the unkindest cut of all, McDonnell, who it should be noted is backing front-runner Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination, suggested that women like Jeanine don’t pay much attention to old fogeys rehashing issues asked and answered in the decades since the women’s movement launched in the 1970s. “She doesn’t pay any attention to that,” McDonnell said. “I think most women in leadership positions don’t. They just go forward and lead and do well serving their country in the highest traditions. I don’t think it bothers them anymore.”

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

  • Politico’s Jonathan Allen and John Bresnahan write that sources say Democratic Rep. Laura Richardson of California instructed taxpayer-funded House aides to work on political redistricting last year. “Such activities could amount to a violation of prohibitions against lawmakers pressuring aides to do political work, as well as rules against using official resources, including staff, for campaign purposes,” the duo write. “The redistricting work, which has not previously been disclosed, allegedly occurred after it became clear Richardson was under investigation over another set of allegations that she forced House aides to perform political and personal tasks in violation of House rules. … Richardson’s congressional aides collected information about communities outside her district, organized a workshop to train constituents in advance of a public meeting of California’s independent redistricting commission, and wrote talking points for those constituents to deliver during the public-comments portion of the meeting at Long Beach City Hall in April 2011. The redistricting work was done at Richardson’s direction — rather than on a voluntary basis — these sources said.”

  • Roll Call’s Joshua Miller looks at Spencer Bachus’ re-election bid and whether it might be complicated by an ethics probe.

  • President Obama’s budget would end Saturday mail delivery. The NewsHour detailed the budget release Monday. Watch the segment here.

  • Adam Nagourney writes in the New York Times that California’s congressional delegation “is undergoing a major upheaval, the result of reapportionment and retirements, threatening the state’s influence in Washington next year and forcing members to scramble to withstand what is emerging as a generational wave.”

  • The Republican National Committee is out with its annual anti-Democratic Valentine’s Day e-cards.

NewsHour politics desk assistant Alex Bruns contributed to this report.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • Newt Gingrich makes a campaign stop in Tulare, Calif., at 5:30 p.m.

  • Rick Santorum holds a pair of Idaho rallies: in Coeur d’Alene at 3 p.m. and Boise at 10 p.m.

  • Mitt Romney and Ron Paul have no public campaign events scheduled.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.

Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers.