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Post Partisan
Posted at 11:40 PM ET, 01/31/2012

After Mitt Romney’s win in the Florida Republican primary, will Santorum surge?


Though he lost Tuesday’s Florida Republican primary, Rick Santorum still performed very well among his base of social conservatives, for whom abortion is a litmus-test issue.

That line seems like it would fit naturally into Tuesday’s primary-night coverage, except that it’s not true. Santorum didn’t lock up the social conservative vote in Florida — Newt Gingrich appears to have done better. According to the exit poll, Santorum for the first time this campaign lost among voters who said abortion was their top issue. The numbers might be a tad fuzzy at this level of specificity, but the rest of the poll corroborates this finding. Gingrich also took the votes of those who think abortion should be illegal in all cases by 11 points, while Santorum did worse than Romney in that category. And Gingrich claimed the votes of those who identified as “very conservative” by 11 points.

Some commentators argue that Santorum will surge as Gingrich implodes following Florida — that the not-Romney conservative vote will swing to the former Pennsylvania senator. But if there’s one issue that Santorum has made his own, personal, unyielding, no-compromise, self-definitional cause, it’s abortion. The fact that Santorum couldn’t decisively beat Gingrich or Romney among Florida voters who sympathize with that priority augurs poorly for his chances to grab the anti-Romney mantle for very long. The race from here only gets more national — more about commercials, name recognition, and the money needed for those things, less about the face-to-face retail politics that Santorum used to overcome his weaknesses in those other categories in Iowa.

Gingrich tried to define the GOP contest in his primary-night speech: “It is now clear that this will be a two-man race between the conservative leader, Newt Gingrich, and the Massachusetts moderate, Mitt Romney.” Remove the words “conservative leader” and “Massachusetts moderate,” and replace “two-man race” with “a lopsided contest in which it is increasingly futile and counter-productive for anyone but the frontrunner to participate,” and he was probably about right.

More opinions on the Florida primary

Rogers: Romney needs to heal GOP wounds

Dionne: Who resisted Romney?

Robinson: The battle’s not over

Bernstein: What the blowout means

Rubin’s Gingrich’s graceless speech

By  |  11:40 PM ET, 01/31/2012

 
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