Santorum suggests Romney rigged CPAC straw poll victory



Rick Santorum suggested on Sunday that Mitt Romney's campaign may have rigged a straw poll of conservative activists by paying the entrance fee for supporters.

Romney beat Santorum by 7 points Saturday in a straw poll of almost 3,500 attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Santorum pointed out that Ron Paul had won the poll in both of the past two years "because he just trucks in a lot of people pays for their ticket, they come in and vote and then leave."

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"I don't try to rig straw polls," Santorum said on CNN's State of the Union.

Paul actually came in last on Saturday, having declined to address the conference or to activate his base for the straw poll. But Santorum said that wasn't the case with Romney.

"You have to talk to the Romney campaign and how many tickets they bought," Santorum said. "We've heard all sorts of things."

Romney's campaign shot back, pointing out that Romney on Saturday had also won the Maine caucuses and a separate, national telephone poll conducted by CPAC.

"Rick Santorum has a history of making statements that aren’t grounded in the truth," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in an email. "Conservative voters recognize that in order to change Washington, we need someone who isn't a creature of Washington.”


RELATED: Poll: Santorum takes first national lead


Santorum said his second-place finish was thanks to supporters who showed up voluntarily because they were excited about his campaign, not because their tickets had been purchased for them.

"There's nothing wrong with that. We just don't think that's a good use of our resources," Santorum said. "Gov. Romney obviously may have a different idea."

Santorum's campaign has been working to sustain his gains from three wins in primary contests on Tuesday, and to blunt more recent gains by Romney in the CPAC poll and in Maine's caucuses, where Romney was declared the winner on Saturday.

Santorum told NBC's Meet the Press his campaign had raised more than $3 million in the past week, and that he had performed better than he had expected in Maine, where he hadn't invested any resources or seriously competed.

"I won three races this week. I beat Gov. Romney by 30 points in Missouri," he said. "I feel very good that this is a two-person race."

Romney, speaking after the results came in on Tuesday, accused both Santorum and Newt Gingrich of acting like Democrats — a charge Santorum said was "pretty funny."


RELATED: Crowd goes wild for Santorum at CPAC


"You reach a point where desperate people do desperate things," Santorum said on CBS's Face the Nation. "And I think Gov. Romney now, as, you know, another candidate has come up to challenge him, and this time he's having trouble finding out how to go after someone who is a solid conservative, who's got a great track record of attracting independents and Democrats and winning states as a conservative."

Santorum also weighed in on the ongoing controversy over contraception coverage, blasting President Obama and dismissing a compromise to shift the cost from religious organizations to insurance companies.

"They're going to be forced to pay for something they feel is a deeply, morally wrong thing," Santorum said on NBC. "You've got a lot of Democrats, a lot of liberals, who are just aghast that this president is going to take on this fight of saying, 'You're going to have to do something that is against your conscience.'"

Santorum, a Catholic, said he agreed with the Catholic Church's opposition to birth control, but as a public policy matter, had no problem with women having access to it — as long as religious groups aren't forced to pay for it.

"This is government taking over choices from people," he said.


RELATED: Bachmann's spokeswoman joins Santorum campaign


Santorum and other conservatives have attempted to use disagreement over contraception coverage as a pivot point to talk about other social issues where they allege Obama is infringing on traditional values.

"People have referred to me as the Richie Cunningham candidate," Santorum said, referring to the clean-cut, wholesome teenager from the TV show “Happy Days.” "Contrasting that with what's going on out there in the popular culture, a little Richie Cunningham wouldn't be bad right now."

This story was updated at 12:05 p.m.

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