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Rick Santorum Now The GOP Frontrunner?

As improbable as it may sound, Rick Santorum is now the frontrunner in the Republican race in Mitt Romney’s home state of Michigan:

(CNN) – Mitt Romney may lay claim to home field advantage in Michigan, but according to a new poll released 12 days before the state’s Republican primary, Rick Santorum is on top of the field in the race for the GOP presidential nomination.

According to a survey out Thursday by the Detroit News and CNN affiliate WDIV, 34% of likely Republican primary voters say they’re backing Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, with 30% supporting Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who’s making his second bid for the White House. Santorum’s four point margin is within the poll’s sampling error.

The survey indicates that 12% back former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, with 9% supporting Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and 12% undecided. The poll was conducted entirely after Santorum’s victories over Romney, Gingrich and Paul last week in caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota and a non-binding primary in Missouri. Santorum’s sweep of the February 7 contests sparked his surge in national and state polling, and cemented the perception that Romney was having a hard time locking down support of core conservatives.

Michigan and Arizona are next up in the primary and caucus calendar, with both states holding primaries on February 28. The 30 delegates up for grabs in Michigan will be divided proportionally, while the 29 delegates at stake in Arizona are winner take all.

The Detroit News poll is just the latest in a series of polls that have come out over the past week, starting with the PPP poll on Monday which now appears to have been correct in recognizing a trend, showing Santorum overshadowing Romney in the Wolverine State. And the trend has been quite dramatic:

And it’s not just in Michigan the Santorum has been surging. He’s pulled ahead of Romney in the national-level polling and he’s showing huge leads in the important Super Tuesday state of Ohio. This has all the look of the kind of trend that is reaching a momentum that may be difficult to stop, even with the obvious organizational and financial advantages that the Romney campaign still has at this point.

Nothing that Romney has done this week seems to have done much to reverse the trend, although it’s worth noting that most of Santorum’s rise seems to have come at the expense of Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich rather than by drawing support away from Romney himself. Yes, there’s been a dip in Romney’s support levels, but it’s not nearly as dramatic as Santorum’s rise, or Gingrich’s fall. What we appear to be seeing is the consolidation of anti-Romney support behind one candidate, and that’s a problem for Romney. If Gingrich and Paul end up staying below 15%, then it’s doing to be hard for Mitt Romney to stop this Santorum rise unless he engages in all-out negative warfare over the next ten days.

Even if he does that, and I suspect that he will, it may not end up being enough. As I’ve noted before, Rick Santorum is no Newt Gingrich. Notwithstanding his views on social issues which often come across as positively Neanderthal, Santorum himself differs from Gingrich in one important respect – he projects a likeable personality. (Please note that I am talking here about how Santorum comes across to other voters, not my personal opinion. I’ll refer you to his favorability ratings, which are more positive than any other Republican candidate) It doesn’t hurt that he’s got a photogenic family and that he seems by all respects to be a good husband and father, that alone distinguishes him from Gingrich personally. In contrast to Romney, he comes across as more connected to middle-class Americans and the problems that the economy has created over the past five years or more. This makes it much harder for Romney to go negative on Santorum in the context of a Republican primary fight than it was against Gingrich, and that could end up being a big problem for Romney over the next week.

It’s easy to over state the importance of a single primary, especially when there aren’t many other races going on at the moment. However, I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that if Romney manages to lose Michigan then the GOP Establishment is going to end up going into panic mode. Instead of a clear but bumpy path to the nomination for a guy the base is uncomfortable with, but whom has at least a chance to win a General Election, they’ll be faced with a candidate likely to alienate female and independent voters in swing states across the nation, raising the prospect not only of an Obama victory in November but also damage to the GOP further down the ballot. Of course, there will be little they can do about all of that at this point but I would expect to hear talk of favorite son candidates and brokered conventions to reach a fever pitch. From my own perspective, though, I’ve got to wonder if it wouldn’t be healthy for the GOP to undergo the kind of catharsis that would be involved in a doomed campaign by a hard-core social conservative. Perhaps then sanity will start to return.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Fiona says:

    Looks like Mitt is finding out that money can’t buy you love.

    I too am beginning to wonder if perhaps it wouldn’t be better if Santorum won the nomination, giving the evangelical base what it’s wanted for so long–a candidate who is sincere about the social and cultural issues they deem most important. Let Santorum offer a few more riffs on the evils of birth control and watch the gender gap widen. Watch the GOP go up in flames. I’m not sure that sanity will eventually prevail, but it’s worth a shot.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 0

  2. DRS says:

    Oh please, please, please let it happen! The meltdowns will be hilarious.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The hard right is salivating over the Santorum.

    (I been waiting a long time to say that ;-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  4. DMan says:

    The problem for Romney is he can’t attack Santorum for his obvious flaws (he’s a crazy bigot) without attacking the GOP base that he needs to win (the crazy bigots). Gingrich was much easier for Romney to go after because he didn’t have to tiptoe the same way in his attacks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  5. Commonist says:

    “It doesn’t hurt that he’s got a photogenic family”

    If by photogenic you mean “tacky as all get-out”

    “and that he seems by all respects to be a good husband and father”

    I think you left out the “Does not tell his kids to fondle a piece of miscarried flesh that may not have been alive to begin with”-respect.

    Also, the “Does not tell daughter she must carry a zygote to term if she was raped or if the delivery will kill her”-respect.

    Unless you think he would waiver from his evil convictions if it was his daughter involved.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 6

  6. Hey Norm says:

    You can’t stop him…you can only hope to contain him!!!
    Romney’s problem is that Santorum is just a symptom of his real problem…no one wants to vote for him. His contortions on the Auto Bailout in the face of record GM profits are friggin’ hilarious. I can’t wait to see the Romney/Obama debates.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  7. michael reynolds says:

    It’s as if the Republican party asked itself, “What can we do to bring joy to Michael Reynolds?” But of course that’s egotistical. Obviously what they asked themselves was, “What can we do to bring joy to all Democrats?”

    This GOP race is the best race of my life.

    Thanks, GOP. Thanks.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 27 Thumb down 0

  8. Brummagem Joe says:

    Best twitter of the day from Romney booster David Frum…

    davidfrum In a Florida cab listening to Limbaugh urge listeners not to be “disheartened” by improving economy

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 27 Thumb down 0

  9. Brummagem Joe says:

    From my own perspective, though, I’ve got to wonder if it wouldn’t be healthy for the GOP to undergo the kind of catharsis that would be involved in a doomed campaign by a hard-core social conservative. Perhaps then sanity will start to return.

    Basically I agree Doug because it’s the only way back. However, the catharsis could last for years and given some of the opinions I’ve seen you express has it occurred to you that you might be part of the problem not the solution?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  10. EddieInCA says:

    In for another $100 for Santorum

    Go Rick Go!!!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  11. steve says:

    If Santorum is nominated, and if then loses, it will change nothing. It has already been claimed that Santorum is too liberal in his spending preferences. The GOP will just go look for someone even more conservative.

    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  12. Barb Hartwell says:

    No matter who is left standing its going to be funny. I really can`t make up my mind who I want to face off with Obama.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I can’t see him doing any other than damaging the relationship between the GOP and women (of the not hardcore about abortion stripe), perhaps irreparably. The dude is pretty much the posterboy for The Handmaid’s Tale.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  14. it’s worth noting that most of Santorum’s rise seems to have come at the expense of Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich

    Okay, I get the shift from Gingrich to Santorum, by how the hell does someone go from voting for Paul to voting for Santorum?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  15. Latino_in_Boston says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Good question, Dragon. But no one said it had to make sense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  16. JohnMcC says:

    It seems to be a simple fact that the Republican Party is now the legislative wing of Fox News and talk radio. Wonderful. Delightful.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  17. Jr says:

    Frothy doesn’t have any money….therefore he isn’t going to last long in the race. Romney will win this thing, but he is dead on arrival when they start campaigning for the general election.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Jr:

    Frothy doesn’t have any money….therefore he isn’t going to last long in the race.

    I think you may be underestimating human contrariness.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    I think you may be underestimating human contrariness.

    Ida Know Joe, I think Jr hit the nail on the head when he/she said…

    he is dead on arrival when they start campaigning for the general election.

    I mean, talk about contrariness… voting for a guy who can’t win is the epitome of contrariness in my book. Either that or it is the epitome of “screwed”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Jr says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: At this point, it isn’t even about winning the general. It is about finding a candiate who won’t be toxic for @Brummagem Joe: I wish I were wrong, but the primary season is very much set up in Romney’s favor. Frothy could actually win the popular vote and Mitt still may end up with more delegates.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. Brummagem Joe says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I agree with the DOA comment but it’s ever so clear that the Republican base do not want Romney. I still think he’s the favorite but an upset wouldn’t surprise me. Those three caucuses were stunning.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. David says:

    No matter what happens, its going to be an ugly fight leaving an ugly mess that neither Santorum or Romney can recover from when it goes into the general. Romney will have to swing hard to the right on social issues to pull it out which will leave him dead in the water in the general. Santorum will have to.. hell, it doesn’t matter, he would be toast in a general election. There will be wall to wall ads on his social positions which will either keep the moderates home or actually get them out to vote against him, and the left will be mobilized to keep him out of office.

    I’m not even sure a total tanking of the economy would give either one of them a chance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jr:

    At this point, it isn’t even about winning the general.

    If it is not about winning the BIG prize, what is it about??? 2nd place?

    Losers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    the Republican base do not want Romney.

    Problem is, neither does any one else.

    ;-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. Jr says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: lol, sorry I didn’t finish my sentence. The GOP is likely more worried about keeping the House, and maybe gaining a few seats in the senate. Nominating Frothy could drag down the enitre party in November, Romney is a joke….but he is less toxic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Jr:

    Romney is a joke….but he is less toxic.

    Actually Nate Silver has piece up today that suggests there’s not much in it and it’s even possible that Santorum could do slightly better. This is not an entirely crazy view in my opinion because of the need to energise the base.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  27. mattb says:

    Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing if our more conservative posters are willing to declare whether or not Santorum is a “conservative.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. michael reynolds says:

    @mattb:
    You know as well as I do that there can never be a “true conservative.” If there ever were conservatives would have created the possibility that their faith could be falsified.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  29. An ok piece by Mike Lofgren about the difference between conservatives and right-wingers, here.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. Alanmt says:

    Once again I have underestimated the depths of idiocy into which the mutated monstrosity that used to be the conservative political party to which I belonged for decades has sunk.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. Brummagem Joe says:

    @john personna:

    An ok piece by Mike Lofgren about the difference between conservatives and right-wingers, here.

    As a practical matter this is a distinction without a difference. Whether it’s present day US politics or those of the 30’s that brought fascism to power which is touched on in this piece, conservatives (however defined) are invariably on the side of reaction and obscurantism. This is not to say certain conservative tenets are without merit but all too to often these are subsumed in a mass of much more malignant doctrine.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. @Brummagem Joe:

    OK, so everything right of center is fascism … what do we call everything left of center?

    (A little reductionist there, Joe.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. physics geek says:

    I said here on this blog, about a year ago, that Mitt would likely be in trouble during the GOP nomination because he isn’t liked by the GOP base. Never did it occur to me that Santorum would be the person to potentially derail Miitzilla’s campaign. Still, there are a couple of weeks before the next wave of voting and Mitt is helped by Santorum’s failure to appear on the Virginia GOP primary ballot.

    You think it looks ugly now? I think that the next few weeks will be worse.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

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