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Immigration Hawk Santorum Closes in on Romney in Michigan & Arizona Polls

As the remaining GOP candidates prepared to debate in Mesa, Arizona Wednesday night, a new Arizona poll showed Rick Santorum closing in on his main rival Mitt Romney.

The poll, conducted by CNN/Time/ORC International, shows 36 percent of registered Arizona Republicans supporting Romney as the GOP’s nominee, and 32 percent supporting Santorum.

Since there is a margin of error of about 4 percent, the poll says, the two are essentially tied.

Arizona, which will have its GOP primary on Feb. 28, awards all its 29 delegates to the winner of the popular vote. Arizona long was assumed safe for Romney.

Meanwhile, another poll, released by NBC/Marist, of likely Republican primary voters in Michigan -- which also holds its primary Feb. 28-- shows Santorum and Romney virtually tied, with the former Pennsylvania senator scooping up 35 percent of the support, and the former Massachusetts governor 37 percent.  

Political observers say a Santorum win in Arizona and Michigan would put Romney’s candidacy in peril. A loss in Michigan, in particular, would be embarrassing for Romney – it is Romney’s birth state and his father was governor there. Michigan awards 30 delegates proportionately, giving candidates an incentive to compete even if they don't win the overall popular vote.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I could do well," Santorum said to supporters in Arizona Tuesday after arriving ahead of any of his rivals for pre-debate campaigning.

Santorum Sweep Raises Doubts About Romney

Santorum has been trying to cement his support among social conservatives and blue collar voters.

His immigration policy falls in line with the general, hard-line stance held by most of the GOP hopefuls – including Romney -- on the issue.

But on at least one issue – a measure which allows undocumented immigrants brought to the country as minors a chance to obtain legal status if they serve in the military – Santorum is more hard-line than Romney.

Romney said he would support such a measure, Santorum has said he opposes any respite for undocumented immigrants.

Santorum voted against establishing a Guest Worker Program with a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in 2006, and is also strongly against in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

Santorum made this clear in the September Fox News – Google Debate in which he attacked then-GOP presidential contender Texas Gov. Rick Perry for allowing undocumented immigrants in Texas the right to in-state tuition costs at state schools.

“Maybe that was an attempt to attract the illegal vote--I mean, the Latino voters,” Santorum said. “But you attract Latino voters by talking about the importance of immigration.”

The son of Italian immigrants, Santorum believes building more fencing along the border is an important part of the immigration issue, and also supports making English the official national language.

Santorum met this week with two of Arizona’s most high-profile immigration hawks -- Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former State Senator Russell Pearce -- at a Maricopa County Republican Party event. A straw poll conducted among the county’s GOP resulted in Santorum as the top choice.

Gingrich Launches Ad Courting Arizona Latinos

Romney’s campaign advisor on immigration affairs is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect of Arizona’s immigration enforcement law, which became the blueprint for other similar bills in other states aimed at cracking down on undocumented immigrants.

Courts have blocked parts of the law, including provisions that require that police, while enforcing other laws, question a person’s immigration status if officers have reasonable suspicion the person is in the country illegally. Also blocked are parts that would require immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers and make it a state criminal offense for an undocumented immigrant to seek work or hold a job.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments over the Arizona law on immigration, which the U.S. Justice Department argues is purely a federal matter.

On Tuesday, Santorum belittled President Obama as a rock star who won the White House four years ago, and dismissed fellow GOP rivals Romney and former Speaker Newt Gingrich as unable to provide solid conservative change for the nation.

"I'm someone who has a track record of standing up for the basic foundational pillars of our society, faith and family,” Santorum said.

Outed Arizona Sheriff Babeu Faces Investigation for Misconduct

“I'm not a manager. I'm not a visionary," he said, using labels clearly meant to refer to Romney and Gingrich.
Romney has hammered away at Santorum as a Washington insider ill-equipped to make the changes needed in government.

Romney says Tea Party advocates should be in his corner.

"I think the tea party would find it very interesting that Rick Santorum voted to raise the debt ceiling five times without getting compensating reductions in spending," Romney said, echoing the campaign ads his campaign and his allies are airing in Michigan.

Two thousand miles away, Santorum was repeatedly applauded during an appearance at a Lincoln Day luncheon held by the Maricopa County Republican Party.

"You can speak loudly on Tuesday that you want someone who's going to stand up and fight the insiders, fight the establishment, someone who has a track record of doing it," he said.

His reception was even better several hours later at a campaign rally.

Barring of Latina Candidate in Arizona Stirs Criticism of English Proficiency Law

Santorum "is just rock solid. He's sincere, honest," said Mary Muir, who said the rally was the first political event she has attended in 50 years.

Meanwhile, a new national poll by  the Associated Press-GfK shows Santorum running even with Romney atop the Republican presidential field, but neither candidate is faring well against Obama.

Obama tops 50 percent support when matched against each of the four GOP candidates – Romney, Santorum, Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul -- and holds a significant lead over each of them, according to the poll.

Republicans, meanwhile, are divided on whether they'd rather see Romney or Santorum capture the nomination, with Gingrich and Paul lagging behind. It's a troubling sign for the better-funded Romney as the GOP race heads toward those crucial votes in Michigan, Arizona and in an array of states on Super Tuesday, March 6.

Where Santorum Stands on Latino Issues

Where Romney Stands on Latino Issues

Where Paul Stands on Latino Issues

Where Gingrich Stands on Latino Issues

This story contains material from The Associated Press.

Follow Elizabeth Llorente on Twitter: @Liz_Llorente

Elizabeth Llorente can be reached elizabeth.llorente@foxnewslatino.com

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Elizabeth Llorente can be reached elizabeth.llorente@foxnewslatino.com

Follow Elizabeth Llorente on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente

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