Santorum Surge Watch: The Romney Dream Scenario

Santorum Surge Watch: The Romney Dream Scenario

Santorum Surge Watch: The Romney Dream Scenario

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 30 2011 9:45 AM

Santorum Surge Watch: The Romney Dream Scenario

DES MOINES -- That's what Lee Miringoff calls the NBC/Marist poll of Iowa, which has Romney out in front with 22 percent of the vote, Paul right behind with 19 percent, and a Gingrich-Perry-Santorum-Bachmann low-teens bunch-up. The key, according to Miringoff: The split between self-identified "Tea Party" supporters.

Santorum - 20%
Romney - 17%
Paul - 17%
Gingrich - 16%
Perry - 15%
Bachmann -10%
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Sure, if the caucuses were happening in a few hours, this would be Romney's dearest fantasy come true. The caucuses are on Tuesday. We know from 2008 that up to 40 percent of voters make up their minds in the final week. Those voters, about to tune out of politics again on Saturday, are just now leanring that Rick Santorum is no longer a fringe candidate. And they really, really like him -- 59 percent of them like him.

Hang on: That's still a Romney dream scenario. If Santorum wins the caucuses in a last-minute surge, the political press is ready to put it in a box labeled "1988" -- the year Pat Robertson shocked everyone and came in second. Scratch off the box and it has "2008" written on it -- the year when Mike Huckabee held off Romney and won the caucuses. Huckabee followed that up with a mistake, by competing in New Hampshire, where he had five days to hustle and a weak organization. What's Santorum doing now?

On the heels of a new CNN/TIME/ORC poll showing him surging among Republicans in Iowa, Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign is scrambling to buy television time in New Hampshire.

Imagine Santorum winning, then wasting time in New Hampshire where a slightly bruised Romney holds off everybody. The campaign moves to South Carolina, where Gingrich -- no negative ads, there -- still leads. Does he quit the race just because Romney Super PACs shot dirty pool in the first states? Doubtful. Does a possible Super PAC angel swoop in for Santorum? Well, who? Does Paul ever drop out? Of course not. Just like the race got more complicated when Cain left, it stays complicated if Santorum wins Iowa. Complicated is good for Romney.

David Weigel is a reporter for the Washington Post.