February 7, 2011: Rick Santorum Day

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 7 2012 9:35 AM

February 7, 2011: Rick Santorum Day

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Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum has his photograph taken with a supporter after appearing at the Colorado Election Energy Summit February 6, 2012 at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

Photo by STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

Are you reader, true believer, for the birth of the New Conventional Wisdom? Gird yourself, because today is the day that Rick Santorum becomes the New Anti-Romney. For a couple of days, possibly.

Here's how it could work. There are three contests today, two caucuses and one primary. None of them actually assign delegates. In Colorado, Republicans are caucusing to pick delegates for the end-of-March district conventions. In Minnesota, Republicans are caucusing before the key conventions in mid-April. And in Missouri, the state is spending $7 million to hold a primary that will assign no delegates.

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The choice available to Rick Santorum, after he looked at this, was to build an alternate history of the GOP race. In this history, the February 7 contests would matter, because they'd cost Romney momentum.

It's working! Santorum, who made the decision to campaign in these states when other candidates were in Nevada, is up by 13 points in PPP's poll of the Missouri primary. (It's a rigged game: Newt Gingrich didn't bother to file for the ballot, which makes Santorum the lone consensus non-Ron Paul candidate.) He's up by 9 in the much-harder-to-poll Minnesota contest. The pollster explains why:

Santorum's personal popularity is the main reason for his sudden reemergence as a relevant player in the GOP race.  In all 3 of these states his favorability is over 70%- 74/17 in Minnesota, 72/17 in Missouri, and 71/19 in Colorado. He's far better liked than his main opponents- Romney's favorability is 47-60% in those states and Gingrich's is 47-48%. While Romney and Gingrich have hammered each other in recents weeks Santorum's been largely left alone and he's benefiting from that now.

In other words, no candidate bothered to hit Santorum in three state contests that didn't count. But the political press corps, some members of which are being billed $2000 per day to ride charters with Santorum, has to cover something. It's going to cover the Santorum Surge, Mark II.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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