Santorum’s Southern sweep mars Romney’s front-runner status


Rick Santorum swept two Southern states in Republican primaries, complicating Mitt Romney’s status as front-runner and all but burying Newt Gingrich’s chance for the nomination.

Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who emerged from last place in polling as recently as December to become the conservative challenger to Romney, scored 33 percent of the vote in Mississippi and nearly 35 percent in Alabama. Gingrich, the former U.S. House of Representatives speaker, finished second in both states, with 31 percent in MIssissippi and 29 percent in Alabama. Romney was third with 30 percent in Mississippi and 29 percent in Alabama.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) came in a distant fourth in both races after barely campaigning in either state.

Romney, who during the campaign has tried to shuck his reputation as a moderate, had campaigned hard in a bid to prove he could win in conservative Southern states. The former Massachusetts governor is leading substantially in delegates, but his path to the nomination has been far from smooth as conservative candidates continue to mount substantive challenges.

Gingrich had suggested that if he failed to win in Mississippi and Alabama, his campaign was in trouble, predicated as it was on winning Southern states.

If Gingrich leaves the race, campaign watchers will look to see who his main backer, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, decides to support. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, twice salvaged Gingrich’s campaign with huge cash infusions; Gingrich and Adelson have been friends since the 1990s, in part because they share hard-line pro-Israel positions.

Romney has the backing of much of the Jewish Republican establishment, having attracted the bulk of Jewish donors and advisers. His appeal to Jews is based partly on his moderation and ability during his governance of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007 to appeal to liberals and independents.

Additionally he and his wife, Ann, have referred in talks to Jewish groups to their Mormon faith, likening themselves to Jewish Republicans who have pushed for prominence in a party that still draws much of its support from a Protestant base.

Both Santorum and Romney have battered President Obama for what they depict as his hostility to Israel and his fecklessness on dealing with Iran, and both say that they will repeal much of the heath care reform package passed by Obama.

Some of Santorum’s domestic policies, including statements suggesting that a “Jesus guy” is most suitable for the presidency, have alarmed some Jewish groups.

Cantor endorses Romney


Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) endorsed Mitt Romney for president and said that he is not interested in the vice-presidency.

Cantor, the majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives and the highest-ranking Jewish legislator in U.S. history, said that Romney is the best candidate to bring about an economic turnaround.

His endorsement, reported Sunday by the Associated Press, comes two days before “Super Tuesday,” when voters in 10 states go to the polls in primaries.

Cantor, who was considered as a possible running mate by the 2008 GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said he is not in the running this year.

ADL again slams Santorum on church-state issue


The Anti-Defamation League once again reprimanded Rick Santorum for his advocacy of a church role in governing.

Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator vying for the GOP presidential nod, told ABC over the weekend that a landmark 1960 speech outlining church-state separations by then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy almost made him “throw up.”

“To say that people of faith have no role in the public square?” Santorum said. “You bet that makes you throw up. What kind of country do we live in that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case?”

In a letter, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Director Abraham Foxman and ADL National Chairman Robert Sugarman suggested that Santorum was misrepresenting the speech.

“The genius of the Founding Fathers was to find a way, with the establishment clause and the free exercise clause, to protect the new nation from the kind of religious persecution that had resulted from official state religions and religious wars in Europe,” the letter said.

It was the second time this election season that Santorum was rebuked by the group. In January, Santorum told a caller on a talk show that “we always need a Jesus guy” in the campaign, which the ADL rejected as “inappropriate and exclusionary.”

Gingrich blows open GOP race with S.C. romp


Newt Gingrich won the Republican primary in South Carolina by a wide margin, throwing open the race for the party’s presidential candidacy.

Gingrich, the former U.S. House of Representatives speaker, defeated Mitt Romney, long believed to be the front-runner, 40.4 percent to 27.9 percent, according to counts after polls closed Saturday.

Over the last week, Gingrich’s poll numbers climbed in the conservative state, seen as the last chance to keep Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and a relative moderate, from winning the nomination.

Gingrich, who had performed poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire, was given an 11th-hour boost when longtime backer Sheldon Adelson gave $5 million to an unaffiliated pro-Gingrich political action committee.

The committee, Winning America’s Future, blasted the state with ads associating Romney’s past as a venture capitalist with job loss. South Carolina suffers from high unemployment.

Gingrich, a one-time Georgia congressman, also performed well in the CNN debate in the state on Thursday night, scoring ovations with his attacks on the media for its focus on his two earlier failed marriages.

Adelson, a major backer of Jewish and pro-Israel causes, had told associates that he was ready to donate another $5 million to Gingrich’s cause if he performed well in South Carolina.

The next primary state is Florida on Jan. 31, where pro-Israel messaging is likely to factor in a state with a substantial Jewish community.

Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who scored a virtual tie with Romney in Iowa and who also casts himself as the conservative to beat Romney, scored 17 percent in South Carolina.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who is running a campaign emphasizing small government, cutting foreign aid including to Israel and reducing the U.S. military profile overseas, scored 13 percent.

After Iowa win, Romney expects rivals to turn up heat


After his razor-thin victory in Iowa, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney on Wednesday predicted “fast and furious” attacks from rivals seeking to oust him from his front-runner perch in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Romney edged out Rick Santorum, a conservative former Pennsylvania senator, by only eight votes in Iowa’s caucuses, the first presidential nominating contest of 2012, as each received about 25 percent of the vote.

Ron Paul, a Texas congressman known for his small-government views, was a close third with just over 21 percent.

The result solidified Romney’s status as the person to beat in the race to pick a challenger to President Barack Obama in November’s election. But his eight-vote win over Santorum also underscored his inability to secure the trust of socially and fiscally conservative Republicans ahead of what is likely to be the most expensive presidential election campaign in history.

Newt Gingrich, a former front-runner who finished in fourth place with about 13 percent of the votes, signalled that he would campaign more aggressively against Romney, whom he has linked to a series of bruising TV attack ads.

“I know the attacks are going to come and they’re going to become more fast and furious now,” Romney said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday, after eking out his 30,015 to 30,007 win over Santorum.

Gingrich called Romney a liar on Tuesday and Santorum took a stab at him as a “moderate,” a dirty word to many conservative Republicans, as the Iowa results came in.

Santorum, who until recently had been little more than an afterthought in the race, was the latest in a series of candidates to benefit from Romney’s weakness.

Campaigning in all of Iowa’s 99 counties, he emphasized his home-schooled children and opposition to gay marriage in a bid to win the state’s large bloc of Christian conservatives.

Santorum staked his campaign on a strong showing in Iowa, but with little cash and a bare-bones campaign operation he could have difficulty competing in other states.

Romney attributed his 25 percent share of the caucus vote to the large size of the field. “This was a seven-person field, of course, and so you can’t do with seven people in the field what you can do with a smaller field,” he said on ABC on Wednesday.

Romney is a strong front-runner in New Hampshire, which holds its primary on Jan. 10. A Suffolk University poll on Wednesday had Romney at 43 percent, to 14 percent for Paul and 9 percent for former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who has based his campaign in the small New England State.

The Suffolk poll had Gingrich at just 7 percent and Santorum at 6 percent in New Hampshire.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who finished fifth in New Hampshire and said he was going home to reassess his campaign, had 1 percent support in the Suffolk survey. Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann was at 2 percent.

Bachmann who received 5 percent in Iowa, to finish sixth, said she is continuing her campaign.

With deep reserves of cash and a strong campaign infrastructure, Romney has the resources to compete in bigger states like Florida at the end of the month. He has been focusing his attacks on what he terms Obama’s “failed presidency.”

A Republican official said Senator John McCain, the party’s 2008 nominee, would endorse Romney on Wednesday.

Sparsely populated Iowa yields just 25 delegates of the 1,143 needed to lock up the Republican presidential nomination, and those delegates aren’t actually awarded for months after Tuesday’s caucuses.

About 120,000 people participated in Tuesday’s Republican vote, and another 25,000 participated in the Democratic caucus—about 8 percent of the state’s eligible voters.

Additional reporting by David Morgan and Susan Heavey in Washington and Jane Sutton, Eric Johnson and Steve Holland in Iowa, Writing by Patricia Zengerle, Editing by Vicki Allen

At least 3 GOP candidates say war with Iran is an option


Three Republican candidates for president said they would go to war if Iran obtained a nuclear weapon.

Mitt Romney, one of the frontrunners and the former Massachusetts governor, Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania U.S. senator, each said Saturday night that a “credible threat” of war was necessary to contain Iran.

The policy under Presidents Obama and George W. Bush was to say that “nothing is off the table” without specifying a military option.

“The president should have built a credible threat of military action,” Romney said, referring to Obama.

“If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon,” he said.

Gingrich and Santorum agreed that there should be a “credible threat” of military action.

Herman Cain, a businessman who is also a front-runner, said he would support insurgents in Iran and deploy anti-missile ships in the region, but stopped short of military action.

“I would not entertain military opposition,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas.) also was opposed.

Not asked were Texas Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

Bachmann later accused Obama of “not standing with Israel” at a time that “the table is being set for worldwide nuclear war with Israel.”

Perry said he backed sanctions that would cut Iran’s Central Bank off from the U.S. economy—something that is currently under consideration in Congress.

Perry also said he backed cutting foreign assistance altogether and getting nations to make their case for assistance. When asked if that included Israel, he said “absolutely,” although he predicted that Israel would make a strong case and would receive substantial aid.

His campaign emailed a “clarification” to reporters immediately following the debate.

It repeated Perry’s debate remarks that “Israel is a special ally, and my bet is that we would be funding them at some substantial level” but added: “Gov. Perry recognizes Israel as a unique and vital political and economic partner for the United States in the Middle East.”

The debate, co-sponsored by CBS and National Journal, took place at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. South Carolina is a key early primary state for Republicans.

Santorum, prior to announcing bid, calls Obama a ‘paper tiger’ on Iranian nuke threat


Hours before announcing his presidential run, Rick Santorum called President Obama a “paper tiger” with regard to Iran and threats to Israel.

Santorum, a former U.S. senator representing Pennsylvania, appeared on “Good Morning America” early Monday, hours before his official announcement, and said the Iranians are moving forward with a nuclear program while knowing “the president is not going to do anything to stop them.

“He has been a paper tiger and [the Iranians] are an existential threat to the State of Israel, and the Israelis know it and the Americans know it. And this president has not stepped forward and done anything to stop that threat,” Santorum said.

Santorum, a social conservative who lost re-election in 2006, spoke about his support for Israel at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference Saturday, the Hill reported.

“There is no greater friend to Israel than the social conservatives in America,” Santorum said Saturday.

There are seven declared candidates for the Republican nomination, and many of them have made criticizing Obama’s Middle East policy a centerpiece of their campaigns.