Santorum’s popularity – more a matter of the least known record of the candidates – for now

Rick Santorum speaks in Eastlake, Ohio

The latest surge in polls by Rick Santorum has many people asking if he can maintain it and go on to become the real Anti-Romney candidate. A Santorum victory in Michigan’s primary would truly shake the foundations of the Romney campaign.  Santorum’s rise has coincided with some $4 million in contributions to his campaign account over the past seven days and his small team are now working on an aggressive strategy to challenge Mitt Romney in Romney’s native Michigan and beyond.

The reality is very different just below the surface, Santorum has benefitted not just from his three victories last week, he has benefitted from Newt Gingrich trying to raise much needed funds in California for the battles ahead and a Romney campaign reviewing its strategy before the real pace of the Michigan and Arizona battles heat up next week. Santorum is underfunded and outmanned. He’s still lacking in organization, a month and a half into the primary season. Santorum hasn’t been a front runner in this campaign until now and I predict it will last a maximum of two weeks before he starts plummeting in the polls again.

Santorum’s record in Washington is relatively short compared to former Speaker Gingrich’s however, his assertion that he is the true conservative choice will start to come under attack from the media, and other campaigns as we move towards the primary contest. Left-leaning groups such as the Center For American Progress and Emily’s List are going after Santorum’s comments on women. A staunch social conservative, Santorum has been critical of women serving in combat and sometimes in the workplace.

The Romney team highlight three vulnerabilities; Santorum’s support for some earmarks. They highlight that Santorum was one of a handful of Republicans who voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor to the federal circuit court in 1998. Sotomayor was nominated by President Barack Obama, and confirmed by the Senate, to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009. Santorum also faced criticism during the New Hampshire and South Carolina primary campaigns for opposing right-to-work legislation, an issue Romney aides expect to re-emerge. They also expect Santorum’s endorsement of then-Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter over Rep. Pat Toomey in the 2004 GOP Senate primary to become an issue. Santorum said in a video appeal for Specter, a social moderate, that the senior Republican senator was “with us on the votes that matter.” In 2009, Specter changed his party affiliation to Democrat.

A positive sounding Santorum said in an interview, “We’ve got a great volunteer base. In some states we’re going to have staff. Other states we aren’t. We’re going to use volunteers.” Santorum is building his strategy in Michigan on a message of manufacturing revival, and will likely use Romney’s words against him from a 2008 New York Times op-ed titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” This op-ed put forward an alternative to a taxpayer funded bail out, but the revival of the car industry has been one of the success stories in an otherwise poor performing economy.

Santorum will find it hard to appeal to Independent voters in a general election campaign and while people may think he had no obvious flaws like Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich, I sound a word of caution. The reason Santorum may appear to be a choice at present is largely down to the fact that he is the least known of all the candidates. His message of social values seem to be striking the note with conservatives at the moment however; once people start looking into his policy positions and his record in Congress, people will start questioning their support.

People have criticised Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich for appearing angry and displaying sour grapes at times during this campaign. The first glimpse of Santorum’s tendency to snap, and bite back were on display after his defeat in the CPAC straw poll by Romney at the weekend. Santorum claimed Romney bought the poll by transporting supporters in. Whether he is accurate or not, such a practice is common in American politics for many years.

Santorum is exceeding expectations at the moment however; I question his temperament to deal with the pressure that Gingrich and Romney have experienced in this race to date. Anyone who knows Santorum of old are fully aware that he has a tendency to let his emotions to run ahead of his thinking in responses and is especially vulnerable when criticised. I admire Santorum for how he has competed thus far, and I actually expected him to be one of the first candidates to quit the trail six months ago however; conservatives who believe he is the answer to the anti-Romney candidate and believe he may be able to challenge President Obama in the coming weeks are mistaken.

The current focus and appeal on Santorum may be hindering Gingrich in his fund raising capabilities however; it also assists Gingrich in allowing him time to work on his southern strategy for the present. I believe Gingrich or Romney still represent the GOP’s best chance of beating President Obama in the fall. I’ll be revisiting this opinion piece next week, and it will be interesting to see if Rick Santorum is still viewed as the outsider come good in the race.

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