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ThePlumLIneGS whorunsgov plumline
Posted at 10:16 AM ET, 02/20/2012

Can Santorum stay strong this week?

What to watch for in the GOP presidential race this week:

1. They’re having a debate, Wednesday night in Arizona. The pattern of these things is that Mitt Romney has usually done very well in “showdown” debates, when one of the not-Romneys has rallied. Rick Santorum’s debate record is mixed; he’s far more capable of handling the basics than Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann were, but he hasn’t come across as particularly presidential or, at least as I see it, likeable. Note that Santorum and Ron Paul have mixed it up several times over foreign policy, which presumably helps Santorum with mainstream conservative votes and activists.

2. Can Santorum play in the big leagues? Comparing Barack Obama to Hitler isn’t a good sign. This is difficult territory; Santorum needs to keep his rhetoric hot enough to convince conservatives that there’s a meaningful difference between himself and Romney, without sounding like a fringe candidate. Can he do it? Santorum isn’t nearly as weak a candidate as Newt Gingrich in terms of the opposition research file on him, but he also has never had any serious exposure to the national press until very recently, and a shoestring campaign doesn’t help.

3. What’s up in Georgia? There hasn’t been a Georgia poll since Santorum’s national surge took hold and since the real campaigning began in that state for the Super Tuesday primary on March 6. Newt Gingrich had a solid lead back then, but if he collapses there - likely, in my view - then even if he remains in the race after Super Tuesday he’s apt to be a fringe figure who won’t pick up delegates.

4. Will anyone endorse Rick Santorum? Since his big day in Colorado and Minnesota, the biggest news for Santorum is that no one has stepped up for him. Not quite no one; Mike DeWine in Ohio flipped from Romney to the former Pennsylvania Senator, and there must be some low-level pols who just haven’t attracted national coverage. Still, two weeks later Santorum still has the support of only two Members of the House and zero current Senators or Governors. It’s not just moderate “establishment” types who aren’t interested in Santorum; it’s also Tea Partiers and, well, everyone.

5. And, just to mention the most obvious one: Everyone will be watching the polls in Arizona (where Romney has been solidly ahead) and Michigan (with Santorum holding a narrow lead) leading up to next Tuesday’s primary elections in those states.

Overall, I still think that Mitt Romney basically has this thing won, and what’s really at stake is how long he takes to end the contested portion of the process. However, it’s hard to completely dismiss Santorum when he holds a national polling lead, even though it’s also very difficult for me to picture a serious run at the nomination without any support at all from elected Republicans.

By  |  10:16 AM ET, 02/20/2012

 
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