After the American Century
Santorum's recent surge has subsided somewhat. The latest polls suggest that Romney will probably win Arizona next week. But in Michigan Santorum trails only by a 2 points in the average of all polls (i.e. inside the margin of error), and in one of them he leads. The overall trend line is against him, however, as Romney has been gaining back ground in Michigan while Santorum has been falling, from an average of 37.8 down to 34.8. Romney, on the back of many radio and TV advertisements, has clawed his way from 28.5 to 36.8. The strategy in these advertisements has been to depict Santorum as a Washington insider who has not voted consistently for Conservative issues. Meanwhile, however, Romney revealed in off the cuff remarks that he and his wife own two Cadillacs and several other cars, parked at his homes in different parts of the country. Way to connect with the average American!
Curiously, Romney might be doing Santorum a favor, not just in his gaffe about his fleet of cars, but in terms of how his opponent is perceived by voters. For Romney is trying to look more right-wing while presenting Santorum as too moderate, too willing to compromise. Moderate and independent voters might thereby find him more attractive, however, and this would help Santorum if he became the nominee. This could happen if he manages to win either Arizona or Michigan and follows it up with what appears right now to be a certain win in the very important Ohio Primary a week later. Moreover, polls showing him running just as well as (or as badly as) Romney against Obama - which is to say that they both lose by more than 7 points.
By comparison with the two front-runners, Gingrich and Paul are far off the pace, picking up between them about 20% of the votes in Michigan and 25% in Arizona. Both are surely looking forward to Super Tuesday, a week later, when Gingrich seems certain to win his home state of Georgia and to do well in several other states. Paul can also hope for a stronger showing on Super Tuesday in the most conservative states such as Alaska, North Dakota, and Idaho.
Overall, the situation remains volatile. Romney keeps grinding away with his money and organization, but Santorum continues to make a strong challenge, arguably stronger than that of the others who briefly rose in the polls during the fall and early winter. The next ten days will tell us whether Romney can at least break out of the pack or whether Santorum is keep matters uncertain. Moreover, the longer Gingrich and Paul remain in the competition, the less certain anyone can wrap up the nomination before the Convention.