Hey, remember when I joked that we would cycle through some new frontrunners and surging candidates during the Christmas break?
No joke, after all! “With less than a week to go until Republicans cast the first votes of the 2012 presidential race in Iowa, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Texas congressman Ron Paul remain atop the field there, even as the fortunes of their closest competitors are quickly changing, according to a new CNN/TIME/ORC poll released Wednesday. Bolstering that possibility is the collapse of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who led in Iowa with 33% less than a month ago, but has seen his front-runner status disintegrate under a torrent of negative advertising and now claims just 14% support. Some of his voters have scattered, providing small bumps to Romney and Paul as well as Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Governor Rick Perry. But the biggest beneficiary of Gingrich’s collapse appears to be former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who’s rocketed into third place with 16%, a dramatic 11-point climb in three short weeks. Santorum now leads among born-again Christians, and is tied with Paul and Romney among self-described conservatives and Tea Party supporters.”
Nobody saw this coming! Well, maybe the boss did: “In a Republican nomination contest full of ‘second looks,’ former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum may be heading toward a ‘first look’ in the finale of the Iowa caucuses. If you watched any of the Republican debates, you saw Santorum, a 53-year-old Catholic father of seven. He was the guy standing at the end of the candidate lineup complaining about not getting enough questions. Newt Gingrich clawed back into contention by scorching debate moderators for their bias and stupidity; Santorum stayed in the second tier while scolding moderators for not paying more attention to him.”
Actually, Robert Stacy McCain, now on the ground in Iowa, talked about the possibility of this kind of shift Tuesday: “The apparent collapse of Gingrich — at least insofar as it involves conservatives in Iowa — will be one of the big stories to keep watching. Multiple sources confirm the lack of organizational ‘ground game’ for Newt here, but the key questions are, ‘How far will he fall?’ and ‘Who will benefit most from Newt’s losses?’ Another sign the beneficiary might be Santorum: ’Huck’s Army’ founders Alex and Brett Harris today endorsed Santorum. Today I had a long conversation with influential Iowa talk-show host Steve Deace, who remains skeptical of Santorum’s Cinderella potential. Listening to Deace’s analysis, I’d say the unreported story is this: Perhaps the real reason Steve King didn’t endorse Santorum yesterday is not only King’s longstanding friendship with Bachmann, but also that re-districting has given King some new territory that includes a lot of fired-up Ron Paul supporters. The last thing King needs is a bunch of fanatical Paulistas backing a primary challenger against him next year. There are layers and layers of complexity to GOP politics in Iowa, and I don’t pretend to understand it at more than a superficial level. But I think the situation here is a lot more volatile than most people realize.”
“And people wonder why I covered Santorum when no one else would,” gloats Jen Rubin.
And just think, some bleary-eyed yokel was on CNN around 6 a.m. Tuesday morning saying that one extra day of campaigning the day after Christmas was unlikely to do much good for Santorum. Glad nobody listens to that guy!
Actually, permit me a tiny bit of rain on Santorum’s late-breaking parade. He’s spent 99 days in Iowa, visited all 99 counties, and done 291 events way more than any other candidate. A 16 percent finish would get him . . . four delegates. (And as a reader notes, we can dispute whether any of the candidates actually “win” any committed delegates out of the January 3 caucuses.) He will get possibly a respectable third after a commitment of time and energy that he simply cannot equal anywhere else. Could he get momentum, more press coverage, more donations and more endorsements with a solid finish in Iowa? Sure. But he’ll probably end up behind Romney, who has spent 13 days in the state and done only 24 events.
Maybe that strong third — or dare he dream of second? — would dramatically change his level of support in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Put simply, he needs it; he’s at 3.3 percent in New Hampshire and 2.7 percent in South Carolina.
Also, some criticism of two places whose names start with “I”: Iowa, and Iran.