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ThePlumLIneGS whorunsgov plumline
Posted at 04:56 PM ET, 12/28/2011

Yup, we’re really going to be talking Santorum

In a new poll, only the second since a one-week break for Christmas, CNN/Time confirms the finding from the PPP poll last night that had four candidates very close for third place. The big difference? While PPP still had Newt Gingrich just ahead of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum, CNN/Time have Santorum third at 16 percent, followed by Gingrich at 14 percent, Perry at 11 percent and Bachmann at 9 percent.

Now, no one should get too excited about this — average the two polls together, and what you have is basically a four-way tie for third place. You’re going to get random variation around that number no matter what, and Iowa is notoriously difficult to poll, with each pollster making different assumptions to try to get at an impossible-to-guess electorate. Plus as Nate Silver points out, the PPP survey, while released first, was actually conducted more recently than the CNN/Time one-week poll. But it’s quite likely that Santorum is going to get a bit of (or more) positive publicity from this, since he’s more or less a fresh face and since there’s a bit of an element of surprise here, at least if you take the results at face value (that is, as “Santorum 3rd!” rather than “jumble for 3rd!”). There’s every possibility that the next poll coming out could have one of the others in third and undercut the Santorum mini-momentum; on the other hand, positive publicity today could wind up leading to a larger Santorum push (see Silver’s piece earlier today).

So I’ll stick to what I said last night after the PPP results were out. Any of the six contenders in Iowa could finish in the top three, and all but Gingrich could win it outright; the only one with an apparent lock on a top-three finish is Ron Paul (second in the CNN/Time sounding, three ticks behind Romney). And remember: What matters is the spin coming out of Iowa, not the results themselves. But we may be about to find out a whole lot more about Rick Santorum than we expected — whether conservative party actors would be willing to rally to him, whether he’s capable of ramping up his operation into a national campaign quickly and whether he has an Iowa operation capable of translating a bit of buzz into caucus success. As I was saying yesterday, as unlikely as a strong Santorum candidacy would be, it’s not clear that if he manages to surge that he would be as vulnerable as Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann clearly were. 

By  |  04:56 PM ET, 12/28/2011

 
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