Santorum Ahead, Romney Creeping Up

February 22, 2012 Updated: July 9, 2012

Epoch Times PhotoRepublican presidential candidate Rick Santorum remains ahead in national polls but rival Mitt Romney is creeping up as GOP candidates prepare for a national debate on Feb. 22 and two primaries, Arizona and Michigan, on Feb. 28.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has surged ahead of former front runner Mitt Romney in the GOP race, building on his three-state sweep earlier in the month, where he won Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota.

While Romney presently leads Santorum in Arizona, Santorum is ahead of the former Massachusetts governor in national polls by 6 points, according to an average of five polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.

Santorum has 33.8 percent support in those polls to Romney’s 28 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is third at 14 percent and Texas Rep. Ron Paul follows at 12.2 percent.

Santorum also leads in Michigan, Romney’s home state, but that lead has been cut by 15 percentage points over the last week, according to a Public Policy Polling survey (PPP) that notes the tightening is more a function of Romney gaining than Santorum dropping back.

All four candidates will be preparing for a critical national CNN debate to take place on Feb. 22 in Mesa, Ariz. It will be the 21st debate in the GOP race and the last before Super Tuesday March 6.

Michigan a Test

In Michigan, where the auto industry is the backbone of the state, Romney is paying a high price for taking a strong position on the government bailout of auto giants Chrysler and General Motors in 2008.

There are an estimated 150,000 workers employed by the auto industry in the Great Lakes city and 93 of the top 150 auto suppliers in North America are headquartered there, according to a report by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

In a 2008 op-ed piece published in the New York Times, Romney maintained his conservative credentials by decrying government intervention, saying the auto industry should be left to go bankrupt.

“A managed bankruptcy may be the only path to the fundamental restructuring the industry needs. It would permit the companies to shed excess labor, pension and real estate costs,” he wrote.

The bailout turned out to be a success story with the auto industry now booming and locals in Michigan gainfully employed after looking down the barrel of what could have been years of unemployment.

Outside Michigan’s Farmington Hills Manor, where Romney was speaking at a luncheon organized by the Greater Farmington Area Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 16, a small group of demonstrators made that point holding up a banner stating “Mitt Romney said: ‘Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.'”

Ironically, Santorum had also opposed the auto bailout but defended his position at an address in Detroit last week by turning the debate around to Romney.

“Governor Romney supported the bailout of Wall Street and decided not to support the bailout of Detroit,” Santorum said. “My feeling was that we should not support—the government should not be involved in bailouts, period. I think that’s a much more consistent position.”

Romney-Santorum Contest

With U.S. economic indicators presently on an upward spiral, Romney has lost traction with his message that Obama has been a failure at managing the economy and he, as founder and CEO of international venture capital company Bain Capital, is the better option to manage the U.S. economy.

Rick Santorum’s rise in the polls and his focus on conservative social issues also coincided with Obama’s controversial legislation requiring insurance coverage of contraception, added to a change in the campaign narrative and gave Santorum additional exposure.

Whether Santorum can maintain his momentum and prevent Romney from winning Michigan will be critical to the Romney campaign. As the youngest son of George Romney, the former chairman and president of American Motors, and much-liked governor of Michigan in the 1960s, Mitt Romney was born and raised in Detroit. Losing his own state could deliver a crushing psychological blow.

The stakes are high and both Romney and Santorum “SuperPacs” are already strafing the air waves with attack ads in Ohio, Michigan, and Arizona, according to the Huffington Post, but Michigan has by far the greater focus.

Romney has much more spending power than Santorum but he is still unable to unite Republican voters behind him. With fresh concern that Santorum will not able to do that either, establishment Republicans are reportedly back on the hunt for an alternative candidate to all those presently in the GOP race.

Politico’s Maggie Haberman reported Feb. 20 that the phones had been running hot in the offices of favored Republican presidential candidates New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, brother to past President George W. Bush.

All three have reportedly maintained their position not to contest the Republican presidential nomination this year—for now at least.

Vanessa Rios contributed to this report