Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Don't mess with Santorum in Texas or Arizona or Michigan or anywhere else



Romney may be narrowing the gap in Michigan, predictably enough, but he continues to struggle around the country.

He's up on Santorum by just three in Arizona. I expected a fairly easy win there, not least because he's shifted way to the right on immigration, but also because Santorum just hasn't campaigned nearly as much there, but it now looks like the race will be tight right up to the primary on February 28, a week from today. Santorum is actually better liked than Romney among Arizona Republicans. As PPP notes, a lot may hinge on a couple of high-profile endorsements: Gov. Jan Brewer and anti-immigrant Maricopa Co. Sheriff Joe Arpaio. (McCain's endorsement of Romney doesn't appear to have made much of a difference.) It's still "still an extremely volatile race," but by making it so close Santorum is forcing Romney to divert some of his attention (and money) away from Michigan.

Meanwhile, Santorum is running away with it in Texas, where he leads the GOP pack with 45% support, way ahead of Gingrich at 18, Romney at 16, and Paul at 14. A win in Texas would be huge, of course, not least in terms of delegates (we should all be counting delegates, not states won). The problem is that the scheduled April 3 primary, already rescheduled from Super Tuesday (March 6), may be delayed once more, perhaps into May. It would be premature to suggest that the race will be over by then, given the craziness we've seen so far, but that's awfully late in the game for it to mean much. Just imagine how a huge win in Texas on Super Tuesday would have boosted Santorum's prospects.

Last Friday, I responded to a report that the Obama campaign was thinking about going after Santorum with outright dismissal. Romney would pull even in Michigan and perhaps even win, I reasoned, win Arizona, and continue to outspend Santorum into oblivion. Plus, Santorum would eventually implode under the scrutiny of the national spotlight as the conservative alternative to Romney -- already his crazily insistent focus on issues like abortion and birth control was exposing him as the out-of-touch extremist many of us knew he was, and eventually at least some semblance of common sense would prevail among Republicans.

I still think the race is Romney's to lose, but we now have to take seriously the possibility that he loses both Michigan and Arizona next week and continues to slide. The fact is, Romney, as many of us have been saying all along, is an incredibly weak frontrunner, and an incredibly weak candidate generally for all the money he's spent and for all the national name recognition he has. It would be a mistake to think that Romney can't blow this, just as it would be a mistake to think Republicans have enough common sense not to go with Santorum.

And it would be a mistake to think you know what will happen here.

The historically crazy Republican race goes on, and many of us, even as it defies easy prognostication, just can't get enough of it.

Keep showing us what you're made of, Republicans.

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