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Romney on the Ropes

Posted on the 13 February 2012 by ---

Romney on the Ropes

Santorum has claimed the conservative mantle.

The sheen of inevitability is fading fast for Mitt Romney.  New results from Public Policy Polling show Rick Santorum with national and Michigan leads of 15 points after a great week in which he won Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri while setting new fundraising records for his campaign.  If Romney were to lose Michigan, which was previously considered a safe state for him, it would make former Senator Santorum the favorite to win the Republican nomination.
At this point, it is a two-man race, with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul quickly becoming afterthoughts (5.4% chance of either winning on Intrade).  Mitt Romney needs to use his financial resources to destroy Santorum in Michigan if he wants to avoid a potentially fatal loss of momentum.  Romney has plenty of cash on hand and a proven record of using it successfully to carpet bomb opponents into oblivion.  So far, he's used this awesome power in Iowa and Florida, both times against Gingrich.  But Gingrich, laden with decades of baggage relating to corruption, infidelity, gaffes, and "grandiose thoughts," is an easy candidate to attack.  He has dozens of weak points that can be exploited effectively, chiefly because he is not a likeable man, even to conservatives.
In contrast, Santorum is the hardest candidate to attack in the 2012 primaries.  He's disciplined, he's experienced, he's visionary, and he's likeable (in conservative circles).  Romney has already tried to attack Santorum to some extent, but Santorum has easily let the earmark-centered ads roll off his back.  Romney will need to find a better weakness to exploit in the time leading up to Michigan.  He might try this one, for example: "The last time Mitt Romney ran against a Democrat, he won by five points in a blue state.  The last time Rick Santorum ran against a Democrat, he lost in a nineteen point landslide - and in a swing state that will be critical to victory this November."  The electability argument may be Romney's last, best shot at carrying the primaries.  Even so, it carries risk as well.  The current political climate is far different from 2002 or 2006, and recent polls show Santorum running as strong as Romney against Obama, if not better.
With a broad coalition of support from evangelicals and Tea Party leaders, Rick Santorum will be harder for Romney to topple than any other front-runner this election cycle.  But he'll have to do it.  The window of opportunity for a Mitt Romney victory is closing faster than many might think.

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