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The Santorum Surge: Two Problems for Conservatives

Rick Santorum’s big bump in the polls this week, particularly in Michigan, where he is now running ahead by a margin of 39%-24% according to one poll, and 33%-27% in another, has to put a scare into the Romney campaign.  But it reveals two basic facts about the campaign – neither one of them good for conservatives.

First, it shows that Romney, who is still the presumptive favorite (Santorum isn’t on the ballot in Indiana or Virginia, and will have a difficult uphill battle in Arizona and Massachusetts and New York), is having serious problems connecting not just to conservative voters, but to blue collar voters.  Michigan is supposed to be home territory for Romney; instead, Santorum is stealing his thunder.  There’s a reason for that.

Romney has now billed himself as a “severely conservative” Wall Street financier who engages in creative destruction (like shutting down car plants to build new car plants overseas, as Michiganders see it), who makes $10,000 bets and doesn’t care about the “very poor.”  This is not exactly the kind of stuff that wins over hardscrabble Midwesterners.  If Romney is the nominee, he is going to wear poorly in states like Michigan, and more importantly, Ohio (where Santorum has taken the lead in recent polls).


But there’s an even bigger problem with Rick Santorum.  Michigan is unusually high in union members, thanks to its association with the auto industry.  And Santorum is a union crony.  His record has undergone little examination with regard to his favoritism on the union issue, but it is there nonetheless.  As Bloomberg News points out, in 1993, Santorum joined just 16 other House Republicans in supporting a bill that would protect striking union members from being fired and replaced.  He also supported the Davis-Bacon Act, which required government contractors “to pay workers the local prevailing wage.”  This, of course, is precisely the essence of what government employee unions pursue – they try to lock into law wage increases that do not allow for real negotiations with multiple parties.  He opposed National Right to Work legislation in 1996.

The choice for conservatives is now seemingly between a Northeastern Republican who has flipped on major issues, helped invent Obamacare, and alienates middle and lower class voters, and a blue collar Northeastern Republican who has historically backed the union agenda and voted to raise spending dramatically.  For Romney, the problem is electability and principles; for Santorum, the same problem applies.

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