Santorum’s apparent surge comes after a string of victories last week in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado, and it reflects the dissatisfaction and unease that grass-roots conservatives continue to feel about Romney, who has the support of most of the GOP establishment and far superior financial and organizational resources.
The former senator appears to have unseated former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) as the conservative alternative to Romney in this very fluid race, which has seen more twists and turns than any GOP nominating contest in memory.
The dynamic has become familiar: A challenger to Romney’s dominance emerges, only to fall under an onslaught of scrutiny and negative advertising.
But the fact that Romney remains unable to escape the political tar pit in which he finds himself is worrisome to many Republicans who believe he is the most electable candidate against President Obama.
Two weeks lie between now and the next contests, in Michigan and Arizona, making this the longest break since the primary season officially got underway with the Iowa caucuses in early January.
Romney plans to spend much of this week continuing to raise money for what looks to be a longer and more expensive nominating battle than some on his team initially expected.
As his aides prepare an advertising campaign across the 10 states that will vote on “Super Tuesday,” March 6, his fundraisers are coming off one of the most successful weeks of his campaign. Romney hosted major events last week in Denver, Atlanta and Washington, the last of which brought in between $1.3 million and $1.5 million, according to a top Romney fundraiser.
Romney’s aides also are urging his conservative supporters to take a more public role in the campaign. One adviser said his conservative and tea-party-aligned backers in Congress and in the GOP’s grass roots will be more outspoken in their support for Romney, through television and radio appearances and media interviews in targeted markets.
The campaign also may try to mobilize the many conservative talk radio hosts who are backing Romney to help dispel the notion that he has weak backing among conservatives.
At a speech Monday at an outdoor amphitheater in Mesa before about 2,500 people, Romney did not mention any of his Republican opponents directly, instead keeping his fire trained on Obama.
“This is really a battle for the soul of America,” he said. “It’s essential that we win this election and we get Barack Obama out of the White House.”
Santorum spent Monday in Washington state, kicking off a western swing on the same day the state became the seventh, along with the District, to allow same-sex marriage, an issue he has frequently brought up on the campaign trail.