Updated with additional statements from Gary Bauer and Richard Viguerie at 2:17 p.m. on February 17, 2012..
DETROIT, MICHIGAN, February 17, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer told LifeSiteNews.com that tightening polls and ever-changing frontrunners are proof that the upcoming Michigan primary is “a key test for Governor Mitt Romney” – and that Rick Santorum has emerged as the party’s most viable conservative candidate.
Two polls in Romney’s home state put Santorum ahead by nearly 10 points, erasing Romney’s former 15-point lead. That’s bad news in a state where Mitt’s father, George, was a popular governor for six years; his mother, Lenore, ran for U.S. Senate in 1970; and Mitt’s impressive victory in the state’s 2008 GOP primary established him as a potent threat to John McCain.
His campaign is looking for a victory to re-establish the former Massachusetts governor in the 2012 race.“The people of Michigan know Mitt Romney, and Mitt Romney knows Michigan and its great potential,” Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg told LifeSiteNews.com. “Michiganders know that Mitt Romney is exactly what our country needs right now – a conservative businessman who will help turn our economy around, create jobs, and get our nation back on the right track.”
She added Romney is “taking nothing for granted” in Michigan.
Romney’s stature has eroded nationwide, according to a Rasmussen poll released Wednesday that showed most Republicans prefer Santorum in a head-to-head match against Romney by 12 percentage points. Last week, Romney led Santorum by 16 points.
Political observers say Romney has a more daunting obstacle than sliding polls: his party’s right-leaning majority, which sees him as too centrist.
Richard Viguerie, a conservative activist for more than 50 years and the pioneer of direct mail advertizing, told LifeSiteNews.com, “About 75 percent of the Republican Party is conservative, and 25 percent is more centrist/moderate. Romney’s been stuck in the mid-20s for about five-and-a-half years.”
Viguerie, who operates the website ConservativeHQ.com, said, “At the beginning of the process, that 75 percent was divided among lots of people. Now it’s getting winnowed out, and the last conservative standing is Rick Santorum.”
Viguerie said he sees a clear path to the nomination for Santorum “if two things happen: one, if he can raise the money. He doesn’t have to raise Romney money, but he has to raise enough to be competitive.”
Second, “if the conservative movement endorses Santorum,” he said, “then I think it will be impossible to stop” him.
Santorum, who narrowly won the Iowa caucuses, revived his momentum by sweeping three contests last week in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri.
Gary Bauer told LifeSiteNews.com Santorum is doing well because this year “voters are looking for a presidential candidate who they can trust to keep American militarily strong, economically vibrant, and also understands the values and cultural issues that are confronting our nation.” On the level of retail politics, “His blue collar background helps him connect with the average guy. His pro-life, pro-family views helps him connect with every American who knows out values deficit matters, too.”
Deal Hudson, president of the Catholic Advocate, said the Santorum surge “is a tribute to his political courage” and a sign that grassroots Republicans “are demanding a nominee who can be relied upon, not only to undo the excesses of the present administration, but also reaffirm [our] basic principles and values.”
But Romney’s campaign believes Santorum is leading because of his relatively unknown voting history as a U.S. senator, including several votes to raise the debt ceiling, a vote against a right-to-work bill, his defense of Congressional earmarks, and his support for allowing one-time felons to vote.
“There are a lot of questions about his record that are still left unanswered,” Henneberg told LifeSiteNews. “The more voters learn about the differences between Senator Santorum and Mitt Romney, the more they will find that Mitt Romney is the fiscally conservative candidate and is the best choice to cut spending, grow the economy, and create jobs.”
For the moment, the Pennsylvanian has punched a hole in Romney’s aura of inevitability. Rasmussen reports, although most GOP voters still believe Romney will be the nominee, the number is down by 11 percent, while twice as many voters see Santorum as the strongest possible candidate now than did last week.
Romney and his wife, Anne, have devoted tremendous time and resources to their home state, visiting Grand Rapids, Monroe, Farmington Hills, Novi, and Flint. Gov. Rick Snyder endorsed Romney on Thursday, joining scores of officials across the state.
An American Research Group poll found Romney leading in Arizona, with Santorum close behind. Michigan and Arizona hold their primaries on February 28, with a total of 59 delegates at stake.
“If he loses in his own home state, it sends a message that people recognize that a politician from Massachusetts is not the conservative leader that the party needs,” said Alice Stewart, Santorum’s national press secretary.
Bauer, who served in the Reagan administration before founding the Campaign for Working Families, told LifeSiteNews.com via e-mail, “A strong showing by Senator Santorum in Michigan would be a serious blow against the Romney campaign’s narrative that only their guy is electable.”
Fox News Channel reported on Thursday that, including SuperPAC expenditures, Rick Santorum will spend $750,000 for the Michigan campaign, while Mitt Romney plans to invest $2 million in the next week.
No one sees this campaign ending soon. Henneberg told LifeSiteNews, “We have said from the beginning that this was going to be a long campaign, and unlike our competitors, we are the only campaign with the resources and organization to keep winning over the long run.”
“I don’t think you’re gonna knock Romney out of the race,” Viguerie agreed. “I think you can beat him, but you can’t knock him out.”
Both Bauer and Viguerie said, despite calls from National Review and The American Spectator‘s R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. for Newt Gingrich to end his candidacy, only he can determine when or if to make an exit. “Having run myself, I would never publicly urge another candidate to drop out of the race,” Gary Bauer told LifeSiteNews. “Only Newt Gingrich can make that decision.” Viguerie said, “As long as he can stay in there and get funded, it’s not for me to say he should get out.”
Polls show Ron Paul at approximately 10 percent in Arizona, but his dedicated followers seem unlikely to end their campaign or readily support another candidate. A possible win in Maine could reinforce their resolve.
The protracted primary battle means voter turnout will be key. Both Bauer and Viguerie endorsed Santorum along with a host of other national conservative and pro-family leaders. Conservatives like Bay Buchanan, Nikki Haley, and Bob McDonnell endorsed Romney. Bauer described the 2012 presidential election as “crucial to the future of this nation, because fundamental questions about the size and scope of government and the safety of America are being answered right now.”
“Perhaps the most interesting political battle going on in America today is not between Republicans and Democrats but in the Republican Party, for the heart and soul of the Republican Party,” Viguerie said.
Viguerie told LifeSiteNews.com he could envision Romney going to the convention with a plurality of delegates but losing the nomination.
“There’s a major part of the Republican Party that has dug their heels in and said they won’t accept Mitt Romney, and an equal number that says they won’t accept Gingrich,” Viguerie said. “Nobody dislikes Santorum. He’s acceptable to all wings of the party.”
“This could be a situation that’s settled in Tampa, Florida, next August,” he said.
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