Santorum Rising

We’re now just starting to see the impact of Rick Santorum’s three-state sweep in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri last Tuesday: the latest national PPP poll actually has Santorum in first place with 38% of the vote, with Romney in a distant second at 23%. What I find most fascinating about Santorum’s hat-trick: Were these states talking to each other, and how did they decide on Santorum? It’s interesting that Santorum hadn’t had a big showing since the very first contes in Iowa, and all of a sudden, the momentum moves his way again. In interviews leading up to Tuesday, Santorum was pressed that he needed another win, and would he be able to score another victory? That conversation shifted quite a bit from Tuesday to Wednesday.

Honestly, Santorum’s biggest advantage right now is that he hasn’t been heavily vetted. All the negative campaigning between Romney and Gingrich drove their favorability ratings into a ditch, so people were probably less-excited to support either one. In Nevada, Romney had the advantage of a high-percentage of Mormon voters. Despite making-up only 7% of the Nevada population, about a quarter of those who voted in Nevada were Mormon [1]. Santorum liked to brag that he does well in an even playing-field where no candidate has a perceived advantage, and it looks like there was something to that.

Since Tuesday’s contests weren’t heavily important in the delegate sense, Romney didn’t use all his might against the opposition like he did to Gingrich in Florida. It’s likely that Romney will now start going-after Santorum, and that’s not going to be fun for him. Santorum just can’t compete with Romney in terms of money or organization, and we’ve already seen in Florida that Romney is capable of stepping-up both rhetorically and in terms of negative advertising. Romney is not going down without a fight, and I think he’ll best Santorum in the end. But Rick will be in a great position for running in the next Republican primary.

The biggest impact that Gingrich could have on the race at this point would be to drop-out and endorse Rick Santorum. After rising twice, Gingrich has now fallen twice. He may do well in the South on Super Tuesday, but that still wouldn’t be enough to make him the nominee. Although Newt called for Santorum to drop-out earlier in the race, Rick is now positioning himself as the Romney-alternative. That makes Gingrich the conservative spoiler at this point, but I doubt Newt will take his own advice. I’m sure he still believes that he’ll be the nominee.

So now I’m waiting for the Romney attack against Santorum. Since Santorum has some legitimate momentum here, that may give him the advantage on Super Tuesday. It’s a lot harder to attack a candidate in 10 states than it is when you’ve been going one state at a time. But before then, Rick Santorum would need to keep his momentum going at least through the Arizona and Michigan primaries at the end of the month. A lot can happen between now and then, and there’s one debate on February 22nd which will also have an impact.

Romney has had gradual ups-and-downs in the polls, Gingrich has had extreme ups-and-downs, and Ron Paul has gradually increased but is holding steady in the four-man race. Santorum received a bump out of Iowa and held it, and this is now his second bump. It will be interesting to see when Santorum peaks in the polls, and how long he can hold that position for.

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