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Santorum Predicts Two-Man GOP Race With Romney After Southern Primaries

Photographer: Eric Gay/AP

Rick Santorum, right, prior to attending the Alabama Policy Institute 2012 Presidential Candidate Forum, on March 8, 2012, in Mobile, Alabama. Close

Rick Santorum, right, prior to attending the Alabama Policy Institute 2012 Presidential... Read More

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Photographer: Eric Gay/AP

Rick Santorum, right, prior to attending the Alabama Policy Institute 2012 Presidential Candidate Forum, on March 8, 2012, in Mobile, Alabama.

Rick Santorum suggested the Republican presidential primary would soon become a two-man race where he will measure up well to front-runner Mitt Romney.

“Hopefully after this Tuesday, this will be a two-person race, and we can get down to business of deciding whether we want a conservative or a moderate to go up against Barack Obama,” Santorum said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend.

Santorum, 53, said he expects to win today’s Kansas caucuses and finish first or second in the March 13 primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, which would set up a head-to-head race against Romney.

Though he shied away from directly calling on rival Newt Gingrich to drop out of the race, Santorum cited the former U.S. House speaker’s defeats in recent primaries as a sign that his opponent is losing momentum.

Gingrich, who won two primaries -- in South Carolina on Jan. 21 and in his home state of Georgia on March 6 -- has “finished third or fourth everywhere else, which has been a consistent pattern,” said Santorum. “So we feel pretty good that it’s now narrowing to a two-person race.”

Divided Romney Opposition

Top Santorum advisers have called for Gingrich to exit the race and let the former Pennsylvania senator consolidate the support of anti-Romney voters.

An American Research Group poll showed how Romney could benefit as votes against him divide. The former speaker led among likely voters in the Mississippi primary with 35 percent, followed by Romney at 31 percent, Santorum at 20 percent and U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas at 7 percent. The March 7- 8 survey had a 4 percentage-point margin of error.

In the interview, Santorum dismissed Romney’s economic plans as “timid,” saying his proposals would make deeper cuts in taxes and government spending.

“We have a much, much more - much more bold plan, much more oriented toward growth, and much more oriented towards shrinking the size of government,” he said, speaking from the USS Alabama.

Separately, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a co- chairman of the Romney campaign, expressed confidence that Romney was well on his way to winning the nomination.

‘Doing Very Well’

“People always assume that somehow Newt and Rick are splitting this so-called non-Romney vote, and if one of them dropped out, that could bode ill for Mitt’s chances,” he said in another interview on “Political Capital.” “That may not be true at all, but we can’t control that anyhow, and Mitt is doing very well. I think he’s going to be the nominee.”

Pawlenty said Romney has better credentials for handling the economy. “Mitt Romney’s actually done this stuff,” he said of the co-founder of the private equity firm Bain Capital LLC. “He was somebody who invested in businesses, grew businesses, provided jobs.”

Still, Pawlenty said Romney faced “challenging” contests in Alabama and Mississippi, where many Southern voters remain skeptical of Romney’s conservative credentials.

Santorum worked to underscore those doubts in the interview. When asked if he believed Romney’s pledge not to raise taxes, Santorum pointed to his rival’s record, saying Romney raised taxes and trailed in job creation.

Raised Taxes

“I don’t know whether he pledged as governor of Massachusetts not to raise taxes, but he did,” Santorum said. “He raised it by, you know, close to $1 billion.”

The Center for a Responsible Federal Budget found that Santorum would lower tax rates by eliminating almost every tax benefit for individuals not related to charity, mortgage interest, health care, retirement or children -- such as tax deductions for municipal bonds and state and local property.

Santorum rejected the report, saying his plan wouldn’t increase taxes on anybody.

“The idea that, you know, by simplifying the tax code, that we’re going to now start including certain areas of income that we haven’t included in the past are simply not something that we proposed in any document that we’ve issued or any statement I’ve made,” he said.

On jobs, Santorum said the Obama administration doesn’t deserve credit for signs of an improving economy and a payroll report today that represents a “step forward.”

“You have an administration that - that has consistently seen, you know, bad job reports because of bad policies that have led to those job reports,” he said. “Eventually, you know, the economy does recover, in spite of the headwinds that this administration has put in its place.”

Employers added 227,000 jobs in February, more than forecast, the Labor Department reported in Washington. That growth held the U.S. unemployment rate steady at 8.3 percent.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Lerer in Washington at llerer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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