It’s Down to the Wire in Michigan for Romney, Santorum

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  February 27, 2012 at 9:29 AM EDT

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum remain locked in a dead heat for Tuesday’s Michigan primary, according to a Public Policy Polling survey released Sunday.

The PPP poll put Romney at 39 percent and Santorum at 37 percent. The margin was within the poll’s 4.8 percent sampling error.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul received 13 percent support followed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 9 percent.

The survey found that Romney will head into Tuesday with an advantage, as the former Massachusetts governor holds a 33 point lead over Santorum (62 percent to 29 percent) among the 16 percent of voters who said they have already cast ballots.

And there is more worrying news for the former Pennsylvania senator: His net favorability rating among GOP voters in the Great Lakes State has dropped sharply from +44 (67 favorable/23 unfavorable) to +15 (54/39). Romney’s favorability has held steady at +20 (57/37), even as he and Santorum have traded blows on the stump and in campaign ads.

During an appearance Sunday on Fox News, Romney noted that he rallied to win his native state in 2008 and said he expected a similar result Tuesday. “I’m planning on winning here in Michigan and also in Arizona,” he said. “The momentum is in the right direction.”

(Late Sunday night the left-leaning PPP also released an Arizona poll, showing Romney is poised for a blowout win in that winner-take-all state.)

Romney said the uptick in his poll numbers proved his message was resonating with Michigan voters. “I think I can show that I can fight real hard and come from behind,” he said. “And I think the people, as they focused on my campaign and my candidacy and my plan to get America working again, a plan that calls for dramatic changes in the way Washington is structured, those are things that I think people are warming to and I’m making progress.”

Santorum, meanwhile, had two combative interviews Sunday with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and NBC’s David Gregory. Both moderators confronted him for his criticism of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech to Baptist ministers about separating his Catholic faith from his politics.

Stephanopoulos asked Santorum why he said the speech made him almost throw up.

“Because the first line, the first substantive line in the speech says: ‘I believe in America where the separation of church and state is absolute.’ I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” Santorum said.

Santorum also defended his weekend remark that the president is a “snob” for suggesting everyone should get a college education.

On “Meet the Press,” Santorum and Gregory sparred repeatedly, with each raising his voice. At one point Gregory interrupted Santorum, saying, “You talk about this stuff every week, and it’s not just in this campaign, sir. In this campaign you talk about it, and I have gone back years where you have been in public life and you have made this a centerpiece of your public life. The notion that these are not deeply held views, it’s not just about the press.”

Santorum responded that social issues were not what he “dominantly” talks about on the campaign trail. “I do speak in these areas. I do talk about them. But there is no evidence at all that I want to impose those values on anybody else,” he said.

Maureen Dowd added fuel to the fire with a column about the return of the culture wars, thanks to Santorum. Republican strategist Alex Castellanos’ quote — “Republicans being against sex is not good. Sex is popular” — became a Twitter meme that Democrats used to mock Santorum and the GOP.

Santorum’s rough Sunday might have been just the thing Romney needed to pivot away from his awkward Friday afternoon speech in Detroit. The strange backdrop became the story, with both the New York Times and Washington Post leading with the emptiness of the stadium.

As the Times’ Michael Barbaro and Michael Shear wrote:

Row after row of barren blue seats across the giant stadium made the crowd seem minuscule. Through the rapid-fire, reality-reshaping powers of the Web, a storyline for the day began to take hold that undercut and detracted from Mr. Romney’s words: big speech, tiny crowd.

Ordinarily, such imagery might be overwhelmed by the news of the day: a highly anticipated, substantive address packed with previously unknown details.

Mr. Romney called for a 20 percent cut in income taxes; handing control of federal welfare programs to the states; and creating private sector competition for Medicare services. But the Romney campaign had leaked most of the speech’s contents several days ago, leaving members of the news media with little to focus on — except, of course, the scene itself.

Detroit News editorial page editor Nolan Finley savaged the press for focusing on the scenery and not the substance.

What wasn’t reported adequately was that the luncheon was moved to Ford Field when demand for the Romney event exceeded the capacity at Cobo Center, the Book Cadillac or the Rennaisance Center Westin, the other venues normally used by the club. The event was considered a sell-out. It was never intended to be any larger than it was.

NEWSHOUR NOTES

Gwen Ifill (@pbsgwen) offered her take on authenticity in the 2012 contest. “This confirmed for me a theory I have long held about politics. To convince people to vote for you, you must first persuade them to believe you,” Gwen wrote after detailing her conversations with Arizona voters. Read her post here and tune in to Monday’s NewsHour to watch Gwen’s report from the ground.

On Friday, Mark Shields and David Brooks talked about corporate tax rates, Santorum and their recent honor of receiving the first-ever Civility Award from Allegheny College. Watch.

Shields and Brooks do a Doubleheader with Hari Sreenivasan to talk baseball, Oscars and super PACs.

NewsHour political desk assistant Alex Bruns reported Friday that Govs. Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Bob McDonnell of Virginia arrived in Washington for the annual governor’s meeting under very different circumstances.

Arizona Public Media takes a look at the presidential contest and how it’s playing out in the Grand Canyon State.

And check back with the NewsHour online Monday for the return of our Political Checklist, with Christina Bellantoni, Judy Woodruff and Gwen.

2012 LINE ITEMS

  • The New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny have some details on how Romney is readying for a prolonged battle, writing Sunday that “his advisers are warning donors and other supporters to prepare for a longer, more bruising and more expensive fight for the Republican presidential nomination that may not be settled until at least May.” That’s led to “intensified fund-raising,” they write.

  • The Los Angeles Times’ Maeve Reston delivers a must-read primer on the influences that have shaped Romney’s political life.

  • A new Quinnipiac poll finds Santorum leading in Ohio ahead of Super Tuesday.

  • The new Politico/GW Battleground Poll finds President Obama strong against both Romney and Santorum.

  • Santorum will get Secret Service protection starting Tuesday, and Gingrich requested protection last week, the Associate Press reported.

  • On Meet the Press, Santorum questioned why Rep. Paul seems to be aligned with Romney. “There’s one constant,” he said, Paul attacks whoever is challenging Romney. “I’d love someone to ask that question and look at what’s going on,” Santorum said, adding that Paul is “running ads attacking me in Michigan” but not campaigning there.

  • Talking Points Memo’s Evan McMorris-Santoro asked Paul supporters in Michigan about any collusion that might be going on, which they all denied.

  • Paul will be in Northern Virginia Tuesday night. He announced a “special rally” in Springfield in an email to supporters.

  • The Romney campaign has released a web video titled “Courage?” that attacks Santorum for voting “against his principles during his near two decade career in Washington.”

  • Roll Call’s Kate Ackley finds lobbying shops who have a less expensive “in” to the summer conventions — charity events.

  • American Bridge 21st Century tweaked Romney and Sen. John McCain in a web video.

  • Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer endorsed Romney on Meet the Press, saying: “I have had my debate there in Arizona, and I have looked over all the wonderful people that have put themselves up for nomination, and I have decided that I am going to publicly endorse Mitt Romney. I think he’s the man that can carry the day.”

  • “I’ve also decided no more debates,” Ann Romney said when introducing her husband at the Americans for Prosperity event Saturday. “If we do another debate, he’s going to sit in the audience and watch me….Maybe I should do all the talking and let him just stand here and watch me.”

  • Mike McIntire and Michael Luo delve into the “fine line” between the campaigns and their super PACs on the front page of the New York Times.

  • Republican National Committee Political Director Rick Wiley takes to YouTube to rebut Obama campaign manager Jim Messina’s recent video outlining the president’s multiple paths to winning the Electoral College in November. Wiley goes state-by-state to suggest the GOP will beat Mr. Obama. Watch.

  • Mormons, one of Romney’s most loyal voting blocs, are often quiet about their support, writes the Washington Post’s Sandhya Somashekhar.

  • Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is definitely not interested in jumping in to be the GOP nominee. “No sir,” he told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. “Crossed that bridge a long time ago,” he said, adding of a brokered convention, “These sorts of things just don’t happen.”

  • Virginia Gov. McDonnell said he thinks Paul won’t receive more than 20 percent in Virginia with only he and Romney on the Super Tuesday ballot. “If you can’t get 10,000 signatures in Virginia you don’t deserve to be president,” McDonnell told the Morning Line on Friday.

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

  • “I’ve always said that governors have one of the best but also one of the toughest jobs around. On the one hand you guys are in charge, which means that folks know where you live and they know how to find you if something doesn’t work,” President Obama told the governors gathered at the White House Sunday night. “But you’re also in a position to make real and lasting change every single day. You’re where the rubber hits the road.”

  • The Hill’s Cameron Joseph writes on the high-profile races in the Illinois primary thanks to redistricting, “[A] testy member-on-member battle between Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Don Manzullo (R-Ill.), and former Rep. Debbie Halvorson’s (D-Ill.) challenge to Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.).”

  • Virginia Del. Dave Albo set Twitter afire on Friday after saying during a debate about the ultrasound measure that his wife had denied him sex thanks to all the hullaballoo.

  • The White House News Photographers Association awards were decided this weekend. Roll Call’s Bill Clark dominated the contest, and the Washington Times’ Andrew Harnik won the political photo of the year. See the incredible shots at the gallery here.

  • Half of your Morning Line duo is moderating a panel at South by Southwest in Austin next month. Here are the details, tell all your friends.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • Mitt Romney holds three Michigan rallies: in Rockford at 8:45 a.m., Albion at 1:05 p.m. and Royal Oak at 6:45 p.m.

  • Rick Santorum campaigns in Michigan, attending the Livonia/Farmington Chamber of Commerce breakfast at 9 a.m. and holding rallies in Lansing at 3 p.m. and Kalamazoo at 8 p.m.

  • Newt Gingrich campaigns in Nashville, Tenn., holding a healthcare roundtable at 11 a.m., delivering remarks at 1 p.m. and attending a rally at 4 p.m.

  • Ron Paul holds a pair of Michigan rallies: in East Lansing at 4 p.m. and Dearborn at 7 p.m.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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

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