Up until February 7th Rick Santorum’s claim to fame in the GOP field was winning Iowa (after a recount) by some 100 votes.  Lacking money and organization Santorum’s campaign has basically run on hope and chance.  Conservative alternatives to Romney such as Perry, Bachmann as well as moderate alternatives such as Huntsman had fallen to the wayside.  The Gingrich surge after South Carolina had faded and Romney was riding high after Florida. 

Then came the February 7th results.  Santorum won non-binding votes in MO and MN by big margins and surprised with a narrow win in CO (in 08 Romney won the state with 61% of the vote).  Immediately Santorum’s fundraising picked up and nationally Republicans began giving him a serious look as the latest” not-Romney” candidate. 

Gallup has tracked him gaining in the last week and he has a narrow lead over Romney.  Numerous polls from the Rustbelt states of MI (primary is February 28th) and OH (Super Tuesday) show him leading Romney, some by big margins.  Santorum appears to have gained momentum from over a week ago but can it last?

Santorum certainly has appeal within the GOP field.  He has blue-collar and regional roots stemming from PA.  His tenure in Congress as a Representative and Senator from PA also give him street credit to a degree with conservative voters.  But Santorum is definitely out of the mainstream in terms of social issues.  In 94 and 2000 Santorum narrowly won the suburbs of PA, largely on the strength of the male vote.  But in 2006 when he was clocked 59%-41% he was defeated by over 70% with the female vote in the suburbs.  During that election he stressed social issues to win the rural vote to offset what was expected to be big losses in the suburbs.  Didn’t work.

Similarly this could cause problems for Santorum in the primary with Republican female voters.  Throughout the nominating process Romney has run strongest among female GOP voters.  While exit poll data does not show it, it is likely he does well among them due to his family values and avoidance of hardline stances on social issues (yes, not all GOP woman are anti-abortion or contraception). 

In fact Santorum appears to have stepped into it with recent comments he made on MSNBC.  In regards to a controversial and tacky joke one of his millionare supporters made on MSNBC a few days earlier Santorum made things worse by going into the “sexual revolution” and its downsides.  Telling the media to take a chill-pill after a comment a supporter made is one thing, but then compounding the problem by talking in-depth about social issues is something else entirely.  Santorum’s appeal has always strongly been to social conservatives but to win he needs to hold the support of fiscal conservatives as well.

Romney’s claim to fame has been his moderate stances on social issues as well as business record.  Many conservatives continue to look for an alternative to him because of his stance on social issues and Romneycare.  But Romney does have strong appeal to female and suburban voters for the same reasons Santorum is weak among them.  Romney focuses like a laser on the economy and intelligently avoids controversial debates or statements on social issues.  Santorum seems to be unable to NOT talk about them.

Santorm’s sudden rise has meant money flowing into his campaign coffers.  But as Gingrich learned it takes time to put that money to use.  Romney’s campaign and affiliated Super PACs have already taken out a seven-figure ad buy in MI, AZ, OH and numerous other Super Tuesday states.  More is sure to follow.  Meanwhile Satorum’s campaign has only been able to offer up a six-figure ad buy in MI and a few other states. 

Organization and structure is also key, especially in the MI race and the Caucuses on Super Tuesday.  Santorum’s campaign despite its rise is struggling to set this up while the Romney campaign is now ramping up its efforts.  In MI Romney is playing on his regional roots in the state.  His supporters are canvassing major counties everyday.  And across the nation Romney’s ad buy is attempting to portray Santorum as anything but a fiscal conservative (which is as assuredly true as Romney not being a fiscal conservative).  The Santorum campaign is not sitting idly by but there is only so much they can do.  They do not have the money or organization that Romney has enjoyed for so long. 

Santorum’s best bet to keep his momentum going may come on the 22nd.  A debate in AZ is schedule that day.  Santorum has shown a willingness to attack Romney on Romneycare, spending and social issues.  If Romney gets flustered then the night could go to Santorum.  But if Santorum pushes to hard, especially on social issues, then he could irreparably damage his campaign much as Gingrich did before Florida.

For the last week the Romney campaign has struggled to find a way to attack Santorum.  A DC insider attack based on earmarks was only a temporary fix to a new challenge.  But Santorum’s self-inflicted wounds on overstepping on social issues, especially contraception, open the door for Romney to stall Santorum’s momentum by putting together a coalition of fiscal conservatives, women and moderates who want the economy to be front and center.

Santorum certainly has the ability to last against Romney.  But just like all the other “non-Romney” candidates the smart money is against it.  Like all the others before him Santorum seems to lack the intelligence and common-sense to avoid controversial topics and debates.  Moreover he lacks the organization and structure that Romney enjoys to get voters to the polls, especially in Caucus states such as Idaho.  Romney is not the inevitable nominee but he remains the frontrunner despite what the polls indicate.

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