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Santorum tanks first debate as frontrunner

This was Rick Santorum’s first debate as a frontrunner and he came under tremendous fire from the rest of the field, one of whom even called him “a fake”.

world Updated: Feb 23, 2012 23:55 IST
HT Correspondent

This was Rick Santorum’s first debate as a frontrunner and he came under tremendous fire from the rest of the field, one of whom even called him “a fake”.

Santorum was mostly on the defensive as he traded charges with Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich in a series of one-on-one battles. And he did’t fare too well.

The former Pennsylvania senator was expected to take heat because of his current status as the frontrunner -- he leads the race on the strength of his approval ratings.

Santorum has also picked up four states -- three of them in one day -- of the nine that have had their primaries/caucuses so far. Romney also won four, and Gingrich one.

The Wednesday debate was to set the stage for the coming primaries in Arizona and Michigan, which might determine the fate of the candidates in what is proving to be a volatile race.

Santorum found himself defending — in response to Romney — his voting record on debt and earmarks, both highly emotive issues for the Republican cadres. “He is a fake,” said Paul.

“No, look I am real,” Santorum said pinching himself on his arm.

“Congratulations,” Paul shot back.

Paul hasn’t had much luck in the primaries, hasn’t won a single state, but he is ploughing on. But the Wednesday debate was not about him, it was about Santorum. And he didn’t do to well.

He leads the race with 35 %, eight points ahead of Romney who is at 27%. Gingrich and Paul scored 15 and 10% respectively.

Both Santorum and Romney are in close one-on-one simulated contests with President Obama, in a Gallup survey of registered US voters.

If the elections were held today, 49% of those interviewed said they would vote for Santorum and 50 for Obama, if Santorum was the Republican candidate. In a similar face off Romney got 50% to Obama’s 46.

The differences were not statistically significant, Gallup said. This essentially means, both Santorum and Romney are evenly matched.