Santorum: The Dark Horse Surges

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Romney and Gingrich shoot each other while Conservatives rally to Santorum

 

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The GOP race for the 2012 presidential election is still as volatile as it was when I last wrote about it. GOP leadership was hoping for an early end to primary uncertainty with a single front-runner. This would give skeptical Republicans a chance to warm up to the inevitable ‘last man standing.’

That hasn’t happened. Front-runners Romney and Gingrich each won a primary but mutual attacks exposed their many flaws to conservative voters. Paul kept a steady-state in voter percentage. Rick Santorum, the one person almost all conservatives like — or at least don’t dislike, surprised the pundits by sweeping three caucuses in a big way. Everyone likes an underdog-coming-from-behind story. It may be that GOP voters have made Santorum their ‘Not-Romney’ of choice.

I reworked my spreadsheets based on the latest candidate developments. Romney and Gingrich both fell in my ‘Worth‘ spreadsheet. I am no longer convinced either of them will do much to remake entitlement programs. Romney’s MBA skills make him more of a COO than a CEO. Operations men manage, they don’t reform. Gingrich is too tied to big government entities for my taste. (‘Historian?’ What is that?) Romney also fell because of his past support for abortion and homosexual marriage. I still remain surprised that Ron Paul is the most Worth-y to me, but I like the things he says, except for his isolationist opinions.

The big shift is in the Real-Win-Worth grid. Santorum has pulled ahead of his competitors in the Win axis. He now has the highest score for a consistent, motivational message. Santorum doesn’t sound like he’s reading from a script like Romney, and his strong wins in MO, MN and CO show he can inspire voters to action. Gingrich lost points for ‘presence and style.’ The media is pulling away from him. Romney also lost ‘presence and style’ ground with his comments about “the poor.”

On the Real axis, the candidates’ positions shifted: President Bush The First walked back his Romney endorsement; Gingrich lost his biggest financial backer; and Santorum got the blessing of some very important conservative media superstars.

Looking at all the candidates, the two closest to the true ‘electable’ zone (strong campaign plus voter connection) are Obama and Santorum. Obama risks  sliding the wrong direction in the ‘Win‘ direction if voters are turned off by his negative rhetoric. Obama remains financially strong, but it takes more than expensive advertisement to motivate unhappy voters.

It’s do or die these next few weeks for Santorum. He’s already the most appealing to the conservative base. That’s a plus. Still, his ‘ifs’ must quickly align: IF Romney goes on the negative attack, IF Gingrich descends further into vengeful neurosis, and IF Santorum scores a big win against Romney in Michigan, the former Pennsylvania senator may pull a surprise win.

 

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