Santorum Fighting Hard to Win in Ohio

Rick Santorum campaigningPresidential candidate Rick Santorum is
raising the stakes in the GOP nomination race in Ohio, declaring the
state “ground zero” as he aggressively campaigns for one of Super
Tuesday’s biggest prizes.

Pictured: Republican
presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum signs
autographs during a campaign stop, Friday, Feb. 17, 2012, in Georgetown,
Ohio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)


More delegates will be
awarded in Ohio than in any other state except Georgia in the opening
months of the Republican campaign. Ohio and Georgia are two of the 10
contests scheduled for March 6, a benchmark for the primary campaign
that often decides who can continue to the next level.

After
three events in Ohio on Friday, Santorum is scheduled to begin Saturday
with a tea party rally in Columbus. He then plans to attend a luncheon
with the Ohio Christian Alliance and finish his day at a Lincoln Day
dinner in Akron.

“There’s no state that can
shout louder. You are the biggest state. You’ve got the biggest trove of
delegates,” Santorum told the Brown County Republican Party on Friday
night. “This is ground zero. Ohio.”

While 63 delegates are at stake in Ohio, Georgia offers 76.

Hours
earlier, the former Pennsylvania senator stood at the State House in
Columbus as state Attorney General Mike DeWine formally shifted his
allegiance to Santorum from rival Mitt Romney, another sign that
Santorum has seized the momentum in the roller coaster Republican
presidential contest.

His socially
conservative message has captivated crowds this week from Boise, Idaho,
to Romney’s hometown of Detroit to the southern Ohio village of
Georgetown.

“We have a culture that is in need
of renewal,” Santorum declared inside the Georgetown Elementary School
gymnasium. “Big things are at stake. Our family. Our faith.”

Questions
about whether Santorum can sustain his rise in the polls come amid
signs of stress within his campaign, mainly disorganization. Romney’s
mammoth political machine – coupled with new scrutiny for Santorum’s
view of social issues as well as governmental policies – will give
Santorum little margin for error.

As an example, one misstep by a Santorum supporter kept the former senator off message at times for two days.

Foster
Friess, the main donor behind Santorum’s “super PAC,” created a stir
Thursday when he related on MSNBC an old joke about how aspirin used to
be a method for birth control. “Back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin
for contraception,” Friess said with a grin. “The gals put it between
their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”

Friess
apologized Friday in a blog post. But Santorum was repeatedly forced to
distance himself from his surrogate’s comments, which Santorum
described as “a bad joke.” The comments drew unwanted attention to
Santorum’s own musings about contraception and women’s issues.

Santorum
has said that he wouldn’t try to take away the birth control pill or
condoms but that states should be free to ban them. He told a Christian
blog last year that as president he would warn the nation about “the
dangers of contraception” and the permissive culture spit encourages.
He’s also questioned whether women should be in combat and said that
“radical feminists” have undermined the traditional family by
“convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to
happiness.”

Speaking to reporters after the DeWine announcement, Santorum said he and his wife, as Catholics, don’t practice birth control.

“To
be attacked on that, which I have been, that somehow or another that
just because I personally believe this, that somehow now I’m going to be
the uber-czar that’s going to try to impose that on the rest of the
country, it’s absurd,” he said. “It’s absurd on its face, and it’s
absurd based on my record in the Congress.”

The
contraception flap, according to Republican observers, is evidence of
an undisciplined campaign that is already stumbling under the weight of
intensifying scrutiny. Polling suggests that significant numbers of
voters still don’t know Santorum well. And he may struggle to win over
female voters in particular as they begin to pay more attention,
according to Phil Musser, a GOP strategist who doesn’t work for either
campaign.

“I think in the next couple days, we
could start to see some serious erosion with respect for female support
for Santorum in the Republican primary,” he said. “And that is a
short-term challenge for him as we head into Michigan and beyond. But
secondarily, one of my big questions is, Could he compete aggressively
against President Obama if he’s upside down on the gender line?”

The
Romney campaign countered on another front in a conference call at
roughly the same time as Santorum’s DeWine announcement. It was the
third consecutive day the campaign hosted such a conference call,
although each featured Romney supporters from different states.

John
Sununu, a former White House chief of staff and a Romney supporter
based in New Hampshire, described Santorum as “a candidate who loves
spending and frankly supports liberal labor causes and liberal social
causes, like giving voting rights to felons.”

Santorum, while in the Senate, supported restoring voting rights to felons once they had completed their sentence or parole.

Despite being outspent on the airwaves so far, Santorum leads various recent polls in Michigan and Ohio.

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