Nightly News | February 14, 2012
>>> now we turn to presidential politics and some new twists in what is the continuing plot line this season in the gop. another candidate challenging mitt romney 's front-runner status. our political director and chief white house correspondent chuck todd with us with tonight. chuck, good evening.
>> reporter: good evening, brian. as yogi berra might say, it's deja vu all over again. another month, another new conservative challenger rising to the top of the national polls to challenge mitt romney . this time, it's rick santorum . buoyed by upset wins last week in colorado, minnesota and missouri, rick santorum has done what many conservative candidates have done before him -- caught up to romney .
>> polls come and go.
>> no newer than four national poms out today have santorum, who was thumped out of the senate in 2006 by a whopping 18 points, now either slightly ahead or virtually tied with romney . for romney , it's a familiar spot, holding steady with his establishment republican supporting but failing to capture the hearts and minds of rank and file conservatives. but it's not for a lack of trying.
>> i was a severely conservative republican governor. i understand that the battles we as conservatives must fight --
>> reporter: starting february 28 , the republican race goes national. 18 contests over 15 days. but it's the next state up that's take on extra significance, michigan . it's the state where romney was born and raised, a fact he's not afraid to remind voters of in this new ad.
>> i grew up in michigan . it was exciting to be here. i remember going to the detroit auto show with my dad. that was a big deal .
>> reporter: a loss in the state that he won four years ago and where his father george was a popular governor and auto executive would be devastating. exactly why the more conservative santorum is targeting romney 's core weaknesses.
>> a full spectrum conservative, rick santorum is rock solid on values issues.
>> reporter: romney 's allies are taking no chances.
>> how did rick santorum actually vote? rick santorum , big spender , washington insider.
>> reporter: one other tricky issue for romney to deal with in michigan -- his criticism of the auto bailout. romney defended that criticism again today in a "detroit news" op-ed. this is what he wrote. this is crony capitalism on a grand scale . the president says without his intervention, things would have been worse. i think without his intervention, things would be better. and so it goes. michigan may not be the shoo-in for romney that he hoped it would be.
>> tough issue for folks there. chuck todd in washington tonight. chuck, thanks.