The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters finds Santorum with 39% support to the former Massachusetts governor’s 27%. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich follows from a distance with 15% of the vote, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul runs last with 10%. Three percent (3%) like some other candidate in the race, and six percent (6%) are undecided.
Just over a week ago, it was Romney leading the pack with 34% after his win in the Florida Primary, followed by Gingrich 27%, Santorum 18% and Paul 11%. But then last week Santorum swept GOP caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota and a non-binding primary in Missouri as Gingrich continues to stumble in the race to be the conservative alternative to Romney.
Perhaps more tellingly, Santorum now trounces Romney 55% to 34% in a one-on-one matchup among likely GOP primary voters. This is the first time any challenger has led Romney nationally in a head-to-head match-up. Santorum also leads Romney head-to-head in Michigan.
As crazy as this sounds, Santorum can close the deal in the next three weeks. He needs a good performance in next week's Phoenix debate, a win in Michigan on February 28, another good performance in the March 1 debate, and then several wins (including Ohio) the week after on Super Tuesday. If he does that, Romney's rationale (electability) will vanish, Gingrich's rationale (being the best conservative alternative) will vanish.
Did anybody see this coming?
By the way, the Super Tuesday primaries are Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming. Of those eleven states, I would characterize seven of them as being staunchly conservative (all but Massachusetts, Ohio, Vermont and Virginia). But Santorum isn't on the ballot in Virginia, Massachusetts is Romney's home state, and Vermont is a quasi-socialist/quasi-Canadian mini-state that Republicans won't win. So Romney's victories in those states will be discounted. If Santorum wins Michigan and then wins Ohio, and if he can pull off victories in the other "conservative" states -- on the theory that Gingrich's support by then will have collapsed, and Newt might even have left the race in a "king-maker" move to gut Romney's campaign -- he could be the de facto nominee on March 7th.
Again, did anyone see this coming?