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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript


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MS. GUTHRIE: Well, Tuesday could be Rick Santorum's last chance to shake up the race and joins us now from Wisconsin.
Senator Santorum, good morning and welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Thank you, Savannah, good to be with you.

MS. GUTHRIE: Well, you have spent the week bowling and shuffleboarding your way through Wisconsin. Yet our poll has Romney ahead by 7 points. My question to you is, you call yourself the candidate of the Rust Belt of the Midwest. Can you afford to lose another Midwestern state and still make the argument that you're the candidate who can win these battlegrounds in the general election?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, you look at the voters that we're attracting, there's the voters that are--were the key to the Reagan coalition of winning Ohio and Indiana and Wisconsin and places like that. They're lower income, they're folks who, who are blue collar workers that, that were the Reagan Democrats and the Reagan moderates, if you will, that joined us. And that's the kind of votes we're getting here. We're, you know, if you look at the crowds, you look at even the polls, we feel very, very comfortable that, you know, we're going to do very, very well here in Wisconsin. And we've done exceptional. We're being outspent here again, 4 or 5 to 1, not as bad as we were in Ohio and, and, and Illinois, but still, the fact that we're hanging in there, in spite of the barrage of money, the barrage of the insiders and Washington folks saying, you know, this race is over, this race is over. I think it's amazing, frankly. And I'm so excited and so thrilled the people of Wisconsin are standing by us.

MS. GUTHRIE: Well, Reince Priebus, the RNC chair who's a Wisconsinite and officially neutral, had this to say, "Whoever wins Wisconsin is going to have some really serious bragging rights. I think the election on Tuesday is going to be pivotal in making the determination on ending the nomination fight." Would you agree? Is Wisconsin do or die for you?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I don't think Wisconsin is do or die, but I, I think he is right. I think it's, it's going to be a strong signal. And look, when--I keep coming back to the fact that when, you know, you look at the odds, they're against us. I mean, you know, I, I think David would like to have these, these odds vs. Goliath, I think. I mean, this is--this is a Herculean task that we're involved in and it's going well. We're--we have--we've made record numbers of phone calls out of our victory--out of our campaign offices. We have volunteers flowing in like we've never seen before, really since Iowa. I mean, the, the grassroots effort here has really been spectacular and the response that a lot of folks don't want this race to be over. There's one thing worse than a convention and that is a, you know, a convention fight and that's picking the wrong, the wrong candidate, not picking the best candidate to give us the best chance to win.

MS. GUTHRIE: Let's talk about that in a moment, but first, let's look ahead into April 24th, the Pennsylvania primary. The latest poll we have out of there has you in a statistical dead heat with Mitt Romney. Would you be willing to acknowledge as Newt Gingrich did with regard to Georgia, that if you can't win in your home state, you have no business in this race?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I think we're going to win our home state. There were two polls out since then that have us up 20 and 17, so the one that has it up two when Governor Corbett, who's the governor right now, was running in a primary, that poll had him dead heat with his challenger and he won by like 30 points. So you know, that poll is always, frankly, an outlier and when I saw--I just laughed because it's never right. So I actually felt good when I saw that poll.

MS. GUTHRIE: But to--but to the larger point--OK, but you, you agree Pennsylvania's a must win for you.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Pennsylvania's got--we have to win Pennsylvania.


FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: And we're going to win Pennsylvania. I have no doubt about that.

MS. GUTHRIE: Senator Rubio said this week that the moment that you acknowledge that you can't get to 1144 delegates, that magic number, quote "the primary is over." You have said it is likely you won't get to 1144. My question to you is, if Romney has more delegates by your math and everyone else's math, if he's won more states, he's won the popular vote, and even by your own admission, it's the longest of long shots for you to get to 1144, why isn't it time to step aside?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, first off, it's not the longest of long shots. So many of the delegates who are coming to the convention are unbound delegates. So this idea that Governor Romney has all of these delegates and this huge lead, we just--you know, the numbers just don't bear that out.

MS. GUTHRIE: Would you acknowledge he's the most...

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: We actually are doing much better than what the...

MS. GUTHRIE: Would you acknowledge he's the most likely nominee, as Newt Gingrich did this week?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, he's ahead right now, but less than half the votes have--half the delegates have been selected. You know, just go back four years ago. Governor Romney was still in the race at this point. In other words, when this percentage of delegates had been selected, Governor Romney was still in the race and he wasn't doing nearly as well as we were.


FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: And so I, I just think, you know, we have, we have a lot of panic out there among the establishment because the establishment has tried to convince the Republicans across this country and conservatives across this country that they, they need Mitt Romney shoved down their throat and they're trying everything they can. They're not--they're not making the sale on the money, on the endorsements, they're not making the sale on the policies and what he's standing for because he's all over the map. So they have to make the case of inevitability and I can tell you, as you saw a poll came out this week that 60-plus percent of the people in the Republican Party don't want me to get out of this race because they want a conservative. And right now this is--the chance is Rick Santorum and hopefully we'll show that here in Wisconsin.

MS. GUTHRIE: You mentioned party leaders panicking. I guess the question is at what cost your continued presence in the race and Marco Rubio said quote to NBC News, "I think it would be very exciting for junkies to watch a contested convention. I think it will be very exciting for the Obama campaign to witness and I think it will be very catastrophic for Republicans." This is the judgment of your colleagues in the Republican Party. Are you blind to the potential damage of a contested convention? Do you really think it will not cause harm to your party come November?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: All I'm saying is I--this, that four years ago we had a nominee in March. How did that work out for us when we didn't have the right nominee. The Democrats went into the middle of the summer, fighting it out, slugging it out. The Democrat establishment was saying the same thing. Oh, we've got to end this, it's going to hurt us, it's going to hurt us. No, it doesn't. What, what hurts us is not getting the right candidate. And right now we've got to get the right candidate. And I would make the argument the shorter this campaign, the shorter this campaign in the general election, the better advantage for, for the, for the Republican nominee because you neutralize President Obama's huge money advantage going into the fall and no matter who the candidate is...


FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: ...President Obama's going to have a huge money advantage going into the fall.

MS. GUTHRIE: Fair enough. But, you know, you would acknowledge that there will come a time or place where you might be able to recognize that it's time to step aside. I mean, is there any point before Tampa where you think you'll be able to see that? Are you capable of knowing that, that you're potentially in there doing more damage than good?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, you know, all I would say is that, you know, last time around, Mike Huckabee stayed in the race until John McCain got the required number of votes and then he got out because it was important to go out and make--give, give conservatives the best chance to have a conservative nominee. And we're going to go out and, and fight to make sure that we have the best chance to win this general election and the best chance is to do--remember, Savannah, only one time in the last, almost 120 years has a Republican defeated a Democratic incumbent for president. One time. Almost every single time the establishment said let's run a moderate, we have to win by appealing to moderates because we have to, we have to get this horrible president out, no matter who the president was. And guess what? The only one time that we won was Ronald Reagan. And the moderates there were saying the same thing, we gotta win, we gotta win. We can't win with this conservative. And it's the only time we've won.

MS. GUTHRIE: Let's button this...

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: That's the lesson we need to learn in 2012.

MS. GUTHRIE: Let's button this up quickly. Is there any scenario you can see in which you leave the race before Tampa?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: I would say it's--you know, I, I go back to what Governor Huckabee's motto was, if Governor Romney gets that, that required number then, you know, we--without a doubt, if he's, if he's at that number, we'll step, you know, we'll step aside. But right now, you know, he's not there, he's not even close to it. Like I said, less than half the delegates have been selected, we've got a long way to go and we're going to fight the fight to make sure we can win. This is about winning, this isn't about a cause, this is about making sure we have the best candidate to take on Barack Obama, not the author of, of the first government takeover of health care that led to the second one at the federal level. That's the problem with governor--major problem with Governor Romney's campaign is that he has--he takes the biggest issue in this race and takes it off the table, and we can't as Republicans afford to let that happen.

MS. GUTHRIE: Let's talk about some of the endorsements Mitt Romney has gotten. He had Paul Ryan this week, Senator Marco Rubio, he's got all the leading members of the Republican Party past and present. You've been dismissive of these endorsements, but at what point does this not reflect on you somewhat? These are members of your party who have made a judgment that it's Romney, not Senator Santorum, who has what it takes to win.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: If you listen to the endorsements, you know, they, they all say that, you know, the race has to end, the same argument we've just been discussing here. It's not a great endorsement of Governor Romney, it's, it's saying, well, you know, we need to end this. And I would just say this, everybody's entitled to a mistake in their life, you know, Rubio and Ryan are pretty young, I mean, they'll, they'll recover from it and...

MS. GUTHRIE: Their endorsement's a rare mistake?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: know, our, our feeling is that--oh, absolutely, of course. Anybody endorses my opponent is a mistake, they should be endorsing me. But we're getting the endorsements of people across the state of Wisconsin. We picked up some key state senators and House members and former speaker of the House here. I mean, the grassroots folks, that's, that's the folks that matter. And people are actually going to go out and work, they're going to actually put their organizations in place and, and help us out as opposed to, you know, the folks who aren't even here in the state of Wisconsin. Many of them he's gotten the endorsement aren't even going to have a vote on Tuesday.

MS. GUTHRIE: Senator, you talk so much and derisively about the establishment. Are you not a member of the establishment? You have spent almost your entire career in elected politics in Washington, D.C. But let's put your reputation as a straight talker to the, to the test here. Are you not a career politician and member of the establishment?

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Well, if you go back and look at my record, I was sort of the guy that was mixing it up in--when I was in the House and in the Senate and I don't think anyone would call me a member of the establishment when we were the person who put in term limits, for example, for committee chairmen and for leaders, something that had never been done before, someone who exposed scandal after scandal when I was in Congress, someone who took away the, the subsidized haircuts and the, and the subsidized meals of members of Congress. We were someone who went out there and fought for the, for the little guy. I was always a big manufacturing guy, energy guy, and we, we, we were the conservative firebrand, not someone who was a go-along, get-along politician. And look, I understand a lot of these folks who are, you know, inside the bubble in Washington, D.C. You know, look, I can understand it because I was there at one point in time and, you know, you lose perspective. And it's a group think there. And it was a great blessing for me to be out for the last six years, to, to get a chance of what--see what's--and feel what's really going on across America, and we're reflecting that in this campaign.

MS. GUTHRIE: Well, we got to leave it there. Senator Rick Santorum, thank you for your time, sir. We appreciate it.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Thanks, Savannah.


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