Rick Santorum said Sunday that he’s the strongest potential Republican nominee because the front-running Mitt Romney, despite a formidable lead in convention delegates, “can’t close the deal” with GOP voters in primaries and caucuses.
Winning a presidential race is more than a math problem, Santorum argued on NBC’s Meet the Press. Despite establishment backing and huge spending advantages, Romney won Michigan and Ohio “by the skin of his teeth,” Santorum said.
“That’s OK, we have the grassroots support,” the former Pennsylvania senator said. “We've been slowly crawling our way back into this race, and we're in a great position right now as we go forward with states that are very favorable to us in favorable areas of the country. I've got my home state to go. Gov. Romney has had about three of his homes states.”
Santorum won a commanding victory Saturday in the Kansas caucuses, winning 33 delegates and a majority of the votes cast.
But with sweeps in Guam, the Northern Marianas and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as Wyoming Saturday, Romney won an estimated 38 delegates on the day.
On Meet, Santorum declined to join his aides and supporters who are urging former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to quit the race to avoid splitting conservative anti-Romney votes between themselves.
“I didn’t tell Speaker Gingrich to get in, I’m not going to tell him to get out,” Santorum said. “Speaker Gingrich can stay in as long as he wants, but I think the better opportunity to nominate a conservative is to give us an opportunity to go head-to-head with Governor Romney,” Santorum said. “Hopefully that occurs sooner rather than later.”
Mississippi and Alabama hold primaries on Tuesday, and polls are all over the place. Romney has struggled to win in the South, but some surveys give him a good chance of pulling off an outright win in Mississippi. Romney has planned to fight in Illinois, which figures to be a good state for him and holds its primary on March 20.
A Chicago Tribune/WGN poll released late Saturday, however, found Romney and Santorum locked in a tight race there. Romney was supported by 35 percent of likely GOP primary voters, compared with 31 percent for Santorum. That is within the polls 4 percentage point margin of error.
Gingrich had 12 percent in the Tribune/WGN survey, with 7 percent backing Texas Rep. Ron Paul. Sixteen percent were undecided.