RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Let's talk more about where Rick Santorum stands and about his rivals, with NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Now, we just heard from Sonari that Rick Santorum has surged in Michigan, and that would be, of course, Mitt Romney's native state. And that is one that Romney really cannot afford to lose. So what is he doing to stop Santorum, as of today, and what's it looking like?
LIASSON: Well, Romney's outspending Santorum on the air in Michigan by more than two-to-one. And yes, it may be having an affect, because a new PPP poll shows Santorum's lead in Michigan dropping from 15 to four points. Now, that's a smaller lead but it is inline with a lot other Michigan polls. However, it suggests that Santorum may be peaking. And what's interesting about this poll is that unlike Florida, where Romney won by demolishing Newt Gingrich with attack ads and really paid for it with a drop in his own favorable ratings.
In Michigan, this poll suggests that the tightening is because of Romney's favorables improving, and his vote share improving. Santorum's isn't dropping by much and his favorables are still high. So that suggests that the positive ads Romney is running about his Michigan roots are actually helping. This is a real departure from the all-negative-all-the-time campaign that we've seen in the other states.
MONTAGNE: Well, who is the Santorum audience at this point?
LIASSON: Well, it's the raw base of the party that's not satisfied with Mitt Romney as the nominee. Nationally, Santorum is ahead of Romney by eight points in the Gallup Poll. He has support from the Tea Party, from social issue conservatives, from white evangelicals.
However, in Michigan, Romney is doing better with women and seniors and moderates, and although Romney may be helped by the fact that Democrats and Independents can vote in Michigan - some may switch registration to do some mischief - but others will vote as if they were moderate Republicans.
And Santorum still has Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul to contend with. In the PPP Poll, 45 percent of Gingrich's voters in Michigan would go to Santorum if Gingrich wasn't in the race, only 29 would go to Romney. So, ironically, Gingrich is now helping Romney by preventing Santorum from consolidating the conservative anti-Romney vote.
MONTAGNE: Well, there's also another thing, the debates are back. There's a Republican debate on Wednesday night in Arizona and all four of the contenders will be present. What might we expect to hear and see in that debate?
LIASSON: Well, I think we'll hear a lot of sharp attacks: Romney versus Santorum and vice versa, Gingrich against both of them, Paul against all three, but particularly Santorum. Paul has been criticizing Santorum for his, quote, "liberal voting record."
I think you also might hear Santorum repeat the charge that while he opposed both bailouts, Wall Street and Detroit, Romney was willing to bailout his banker friends, but not the auto industry. Romney will probably push his line that Santorum is not a true fiscal conservative because he voted to raise the debt ceiling five times and voted for a lot of earmarks.
MONTAGNE: Well, one thing about Mitt Romney, he did have a good day in Maine Saturday. I mean we're skipping around here a little bit, but his win in the Republican caucuses there, having been confirmed, you know, gave him a little, you know, headwind. But it turns stormy for him in Arizona, because of a situation where there's a campaign co-chairman there. Tell us about that.
LIASSON: Well, there was an embarrassing headline for Romney. Romney's co-chair in Arizona, Sheriff Paul Babeu in Pinal County, resigned from the campaign. The sheriff has been accused of trying to intimidate a witness against him who happens to be a Mexican immigrant in the country illegally.
The immigrant in this case said he was having an affair with the sheriff and the sheriff threatened to deport him if he disclosed it. The sheriff says yes, he is gay, but that none of the criminal charges against him are true. He says that sexuality should be a private matter. So - ouch.
MONTAGNE: Hmm, distraction, at least, though, at this moment.
MONTAGNE: One – just quickly – one other candidate we haven't heard much from lately, Newt Gingrich. He was widely quoted yesterday saying he thought Romney would drop out if Romney doesn't win his home state of Michigan. What was Gingrich doing there with that statement?
LIASSON: Well, he might have been talking about himself because he's also said that his loss in Georgia, his home state, would severely weaken his candidacy. I think it's unlikely that Romney would drop out if he lost Michigan. But Gingrich's comments just underscore what a blow it would be for Romney to lose his native state, the state where his father was governor, where he won the Republican primary in 2008, plus it's an important battleground in the general election.
So losing Michigan would make it harder for Romney to argue that he is best able to beat Barack Obama and that is why he is pulling out all the stops to win it.
MONTAGNE: Mara, thanks very much.
LIASSON: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: That's NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson.
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