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Romney vs. Santorum: Class warfare in the GOP

Rick Santorum has become a wealthy man since he left the US Senate, but his family background is a lot more working-class than Mitt Romney's. That could help him in Michigan and Ohio primaries.

By Staff writer / February 18, 2012

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets supporters at a campaign rally in Kentwood, Mich., Wednesday, Feb. 15. Romney is faltering with white working-class voters crucial to his party’s drive to capture the White House. That’s a problem for him because he’s trying to fend off a rising GOP challenger, Rick Santorum, who appeals strongly to that group.

Gerald Herbert/AP

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There are four candidates left standing in the GOP presidential nomination contest. But it’s really come down to a two-man race heading toward primary elections in Arizona and Michigan, then on to Super Tuesday with ten more contests and a lot more convention delegates than have been at stake so far.

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For recently surging Rick Santorum and Republican establishment favorite Mitt Romney, the battle at this point couldn’t be closer or more important.

Michigan – Romney’s nominal home state (although he hasn’t lived there for years and was most notably governor of Massachusetts) could be make-or-break.

The headline this week in the Detroit Free Press had to be jolting for Romney: “New polls show Rick Santorum leading Mitt Romney in Michigan primary race.”

“An MRG Michigan Poll, done with Lansing-based Inside Michigan Politics, showed Santorum up 43-33 percent on Romney, trailed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 11 percent and US Rep. Ron Paul of Texas at 8 percent,” the newspaper reported. “Mitchell Research, a polling firm in East Lansing, released a survey showing Santorum ahead of Romney 34-25, with Paul at 11 percent and Gingrich at 5 percent.” 

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Meanwhile, the Real Clear Politics average of five polls has Santorum ahead of Romney in Michigan by 8 percentage points.

That has left some Republican Party insiders worrying about what to do if Romney loses the state where his father was a popular governor and top auto executive.

“If Romney cannot win Michigan, we need a new candidate,” a Republican US senator, who has not endorsed any of the presidential candidates, told Jonathan Karl of ABC News.

“We’d get killed” if Romney manages to win the nomination after he failed to win the state in which he grew up, the senator told Karl. “He’d be too damaged.”

Republicans like to charge President Obama with engaging in “class warfare.” But among Republican primary voters and caucus participants, there’s evidence of a divide along economic class lines as well.

“In every contest held so far in which exit polling is available, Romney has done progressively worse as a voter’s income has dropped,” points out Chris Cillizza in the Washington Post’s “Morning Fix” political column Saturday. “Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada all showed Romney performing between 8 and 20 percent worse among voters making less than $50,000, compared to those making more than $100,000. And the two states with the highest percentages of voters making less than $100,000 – Iowa and South Carolina – happen to be the two states of those five that he has lost.”

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