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'Mitt Romney Doesn't Care About Me': Why Voters Trust Santorum on the Economy

Mitt Romney may stay focused on the economy, but voters still think Santorum cares more about their daily lives.


Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney may have won six states on Super Tuesday, but the big story from last night was the overperformance of culture warrior Rick Santorum. He snagged Tennessee, Oklahoma, and North Dakota—not a big surprise given the conservative social values in those states. But he also came within one percentage point of winning Ohio, a swing state where more than half of primary voters considered the economy their most important issue and three-quarters said they were "very worried" about the direction of the economy. In fact, exit polls from every state reveal that the economy is the dominant issue on voters' minds.

So why don't they trust Mitt Romney on the economy? Isn't that, as he claims over and over again, "what he does"? Not so fast. Another question asked by last night's exit pollers: "Which candidate best understands the problems of average Americans?" The answer was Santorum, across the board.


Mitt Romney can talk economy until he's blue in the face, but downtrodden voters are still unconvinced he actually cares about their daily lives. He's the favorite among affluent, educated voters, but his favorability plummets among people making less than $100,000 a year or Republicans under 45 (the ones whose financial futures are hanging in the balance). Romney continues to play the part of a heartless rich dude—when he admitted to not caring about the very poor, when he ridiculed poor people's ponchos, when he bragged about his wife's "couple of Cadillacs." And it's all adding up. Romney comes off not as a job creator, but as a smug bossman counting his millions. It's not hard imagine an unemployed, churchgoing parent thinking, "Romney is just a millionaire running for president. He doesn't care about jobs. He doesn't care about me."

Meanwhile, Santorum is connecting with voters on more fronts than we may realize. From afar in our cushy media chair, all we hear Santorum talking about is birth control and unwed mothers and religious freedom. But on the campaign trail, he's trying his hardest to play up his working class background and empathize with the plights of voters. He's just a "guy from a steel town" with a nurturing, hardworking mother. He also scores common-man points by virtue of his grassroots campaign, a fact he doesn't hesitate to point out.

Santorum, of course, is a well-educated millionaire from a professional family. Regardless, he wears the "Joe Sixpack" persona remarkably well, which is precisely why we shouldn't write him off yet. To fully understand how much America loves a rich everyman, one need not look further than our last president, good old George W. Bush. True, this coddled cowboy swaggered to victory in less economically turbulent times, but he did it by convincing voters he was just like them. Santorum's chance to do the same hasn't run out yet.

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