Donald Lambro

While he carved out a conservative record in his Senate years, he was one of the big spenders there when it came to stuffing appropriation bills with hundreds of "ear mark," special interest spending provisions for his state. All told, according to most published reports, he steered hundreds of millions of tax dollars into his state for a wide variety of questionable public works projects.

Taxpayers for Common Sense, a deficit-cutting public advocacy group, "estimated Mr. Santorum helped secure more than $1 billion in earmarks during his Senate career," the New York Times reported last month.

The influential Club for Growth, a tax cutting advocacy organization, said, "Santorum was a prolific supporter of earmarks, having requested billions of dollars for pork projects in Pennsylvania while he was in Congress."

This has already become a major line of attack by the Romney campaign. It sent out a blistering e-mail Thursday attacking Santorum as a longtime Washington insider and big spender who contributed to the growth in government over his years in the Senate when spending skyrocketed from $1.5 trillion in 1995 to $2.7 trillion by 2007.

Borrowing a line from Will Rogers, the e-mail charged that Santorum "never met an earmark he didn't like."

Clearly, Romney has suffered significant setbacks from Santorum's impressive victories in the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses and Missouri's "beauty contest" primary. Yet it remains to be seen how this translates in the delegate-selection process to come in those states.

Romney spent little time and even less money in the three contests after his Nevada victory. He came in a poor second in Colorado, failing to match his performance there in 2008 when he captured about 60 percent of the vote. He finished an embarrassing third in both Minnesota and Missouri.

But this is only the beginning of what could be a long slog through the GOP primaries that have turned into the political equivalent of trench warfare. The history of recent Republican presidential primaries is that the eventual winner often loses a number of contests, only to rack up enough delegates to clinch the nomination in the end.

Arizona Sen. John McCain lost 19 primaries in 2008, but went on to become the party's nominee.

Nor is Romney's relatively low 35 percent party support among his other rivals unusual at this point in a deeply divided primary race. At this same point in 1980, Ronald Reagan was polling only 34 percent support in his party, but went on to win his party's nod and the presidency.

Romney is expected to do well on Feb. 28 in the winner take all primary in Arizona, where there is a large Mormon population, and in his home state primary in Michigan.

Many factors will enter into the remaining months of the GOP's nomination race, but in the end, electability may be the most critical factor of them all.

According to recent Gallup polls, Romney is clearly the strongest candidate against President Obama right now. They are tied 48 percent to 48 percent among registered voters in the 12 battleground swing states that will likely decide the election. They are also tied nationally.

Romney's last three rivals, Gingrich, Santorum and Rep. Ron Paul are all in the low 40s against the president in the pivotal swing states. If the election were held today, Santorum, the GOP's latest flavor, would lose to Obama by 43 percent to 51 percent.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.