Santorum sends Iowa caucus rivals scrambling

DES MOINES Mon Jan 2, 2012 6:52pm EST

1 of 22. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum campaigns at The Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa, January 2, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/John Gress

Related Video

Related Topics

DES MOINES (Reuters) - With time running out, rivals of surging Republican Rick Santorum raised doubts about his conservative record on Monday in hopes of heading off a last-minute victory by the former senator a day before Iowa kicks off the 2012 presidential election season.

Santorum, a second-tier candidate until a jump in the polls last week, claimed the momentum as he and the other Republican candidates barnstormed across Iowa making final arguments and trying to bolster turnout ahead of Tuesday's Iowa caucuses.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and libertarian congressman Ron Paul are neck-and-neck in the lead in Iowa polls in the start of the fight to decide who will face Democratic President Barack Obama in next November's election.

But Santorum, uniting voters on the Christian right who have been divided for months, could pull off a surprise. The top three or four finishers will likely have momentum, and maybe more money, to go into next week's New Hampshire primary.

Santorum's 11th-hour charge is just the latest twist in the Republican Party's tortuous road to reclaim the White House - a race that has changed front-runners half a dozen times already. In a time of weak economic and job growth and bitter bipartisan fights in Washington, voters seem to be unsure of their choices.

Iowa is no different. A poll by the Des Moines Register said 41 percent of those who will participate in the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday are undecided.

"This is as wide open as we've ever seen it and the caucuses are just 24 hours away," said Tim Albrecht, spokesman for Republican Governor Terry Branstad.

RICK VS RICK

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who could suffer with a good Santorum showing, tried to slow the momentum of the former Pennsylvania senator, who lost his re-election bid in 2006.

Perry told MSNBC that Santorum's conservative credentials are in doubt because he backed costly government spending projects and supported the re-election of moderate Pennsylvania Republican Senator Arlen Specter, who voted for bank bailouts that conservatives disliked.

Paul took aim at Santorum's conservative record, too, telling CNN: "He's very liberal ... He spends too much money."

Santorum, who reported a spike in fundraising, is peaking at the best possible moment, emerging from the pack as a conservative alternative to Romney after Perry, Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann have faltered. Iowa Republican strategists were not convinced he would claim victory, thinking instead he might finish second.

Santorum, forced to defend himself, waved off the criticism in Polk City, Iowa.

"I am actually proud of my record. It is not unblemished. But if you look at my record on spending you are seeing someone who is a big supporter of a balanced budget amendment," he said.

Iowa voters had a choice to make - choose who they think is the strongest conservative, or pick who they think will be the most electable against Obama.

Undecided voter Patrick Brehm, attending a Romney rally in Dubuque, explained the difficulty in making a decision: Bachmann's campaign has run out of steam, "America won't stand for" Paul and Gingrich lacks integrity.

He said he likes Romney but doubts he could withstand the "screaming and gnashing of teeth" that will come with budget cutting.

"Santorum is probably the most viable. I tend to think he could probably take the heat," Brehm said.

Paul, who has risen in popularity due to his anti-war positions, said in Des Moines that money was flowing into his campaign and that enthusiasm was greater than during his 2008 presidential bid.

"The American people are stirring," Paul said. "This is what this campaign has been all about. We are sick and tired of the expansion of government. Tomorrow is a very important day. You carry a lot of weight in this state. Send a message."

'MOMENTUM ... AROUND MITT'

Romney, who is more moderate and has establishment backing, looked to have a good day on Tuesday under most scenarios. He has spent far less time in Iowa than his rivals yet stands a chance to win the caucuses and go to his home turf of New Hampshire with a big head of steam.

Team Romney would love to pull off a surprising victory in Iowa but would consider a Paul or Santorum win good for Romney, since Romney aides consider Gingrich and Perry to be more dangerous rivals in the long run.

A couple hundred people turned out at a fairgrounds in Davenport, Iowa, for a Romney rally as howling winds chilled the Midwestern state.

Romney's wife, Ann, told the crowd that Iowans appear to increasingly believe her husband will win the nomination.

"I sense a feeling, a coalescing, a momentum or whatever you want to call it around Mitt," she said. "I think people are starting to figure out that this is the guy that is going to beat Barack Obama."

Gingrich tried to puncture the image of Romney as the more electable Republican. He tumbled out of the front-runner spot down to fourth place in a Des Moines Register poll after weeks of blistering attacks from Romney and others.

"People who describe him as the front-runner have to ask yourself the question, if you spent that many million dollars to get to 23 percent, how can he possibly think he's the most electable candidate?" he told reporters.

While the Republicans dominate the airwaves, Democrats tried to get their message across to Americans tuning in to Elections 2012. All the candidates, the Democrats said, are far to the right of most Americans.

"The Republicans have allowed the Tea Party extremists to hijack their party," said Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

(Additional reporting by Eric Johnson with Santorum, Jane Sutton with Romney, Jeff Mason with Gingrich and John Whitesides with Paul; Editing by Mary Milliken and Eric Beech)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (81)
Torqued wrote:
Romney Gaines Momentum in Iowa Despite Being “Un-Electable”. (more un-electable than Paul, says voters)

Mitt Romney is a fringe Presidential Candidate in this 2012 election. He is a labeled a “quirk” by some, and has been spoken in the state of Iowa, and by many in his party to be “unelectable”. Many in the Republican Party have called him “status quo”, and “Wall Street business and bailouts”. He is considered to be a “longshot”, for the Presidency, and refuses to disclose his Tax Return documents. The questions of the undecided voters going into the Iowa caucuses, seemed to always point Mitt Romney as, “not Conservative enough”. Many voters liken him to a “flip-flopping”, Barack Obama. The majority of Republican voters think that Mitt Romney just isn’t able to defeat Obama in the general election because he just can’t get the votes, and is only unelectable. His positions don’t line up with “traditional”, Republican positions. Former Gov. Mitt Romney, fueled by an unorthodox message that has amassed a loyal and growing band of corporations and bankers, has bounded from the middle of the Republican pack to within striking distance of winning the first-in-the-nation presidential primary contest. So now it’s Mitt Romney’s turn to be a top-tier Republican presidential candidate? It’s about time he drops out. He covets the spot, and has sold his soul to the military complex, Wall Street, and Central Banking establishment. The GOP’s 2012 contest is driven heavily by Wall Street politics. It is appropriate that GOP voters give rise to original Wall Street Banker business as usual, even if he sounds a little cracked. When the Iowa Caucus votes have been counted, and the winner is decided, Iowa must know that if Mitt Romney is the “Dark Horse” that is on top when it is over, the American voters are going to have decide if Iowa is even relevant anymore in the future for Presidential primarys/caucus’. With the Iowa caucus just around the corner, Iowans need to assess their political fate, and make the State of Iowa, not a place that endorses on the “kooky”, “owned bought”, and “warmonger” candidates. Mitt Romney strapped his family dog to the top of the family car for a long vacation trip to Canada. If that isn’t “unintelligent”, and “inhumane”, or ANIMAL ABUSE, I do not know what is. What kind of person is this? A Presidential hopeful?
Does the Republican Party want to have a canidate at the GOP Convention seeking nomination, that would go head-to-head with HIS Liberal, sister Democratic Party, seeking the re-election of Obama in 2012?
Does the GOP want this type of “fringe kook” in-charge of the Executive Branch, and the White House in 2013?
Mitt Romney should be in the back with Gingrich, and Bachmann, as 2012 Iowa top-tier “has beens”

Jan 01, 2012 7:35pm EST  --  Report as abuse
If Romney or any of these other puppets wins, prepare for lots of protest over the next few years. People are growing tired of the media relying on the dumb to buy into this breakthrough crap. Ron Paul is the choice, and if he doesn’t win especially after the NDAA law passing and being signed(both parties participated -Ron Paul didn’t), the corporate backed media and the corporate backed 2 party dictatorship will show that they work in collusion with each other.

Jan 01, 2012 7:51pm EST  --  Report as abuse
petradyne1 wrote:
Romney looks and sounds desperate. His answers to economic and war issues are empty promises.

Jan 01, 2012 7:57pm EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.