The road to underdog Rick Santorum’s improbable journey to becoming the Republican nominee for President of the United States runs right through favorite Mitt Romney’s “home” state.
On February 28th the state of Michigan will hold its primary, and if polling which currently has Santorum surging to a double-digit lead there proves to be prophetic, then Santorum will simultaneously deliver a mortal wound to Romney’s candidacy while also taking a giant step towards eventually securing the nomination for himself.
Throughout this process it has become clear that with no alternative to Romney who is both viable and without fatal flaws; conservatives have been sifting through the potential standard-bearers in an effort to separate the pretenders from the contenders. This has led to the so-called “flavor of the month” phenomenon, with various candidates rising only to fall once it became obvious they couldn’t stand up to the scrutiny that goes along with being a frontrunner.
Santorum never really got his one shining moment following his win in the Iowa Caucuses because of the delay in formally certifying his victory, but after his three-state sweep of Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado he’s riding high at the moment. Newt Gingrich experienced a similar high after trouncing Romney in South Carolina, but that high was nullified by Romney’s blowout victory in Florida just a week later.
However, Santorum’s timing for a surge couldn’t be better. With basically three weeks between his big night and the next real contest, he gets several news cycles of earned media to feed the perception he’s now the not-Mitt-Romney-candidate that Gingrich never got when he had to jump right back into the horse race. Santorum now also has time to raise money and put forth an elbow-grease campaign in a state like Michigan, which should be receptive to his family values and manufacturing message.
A Santorum win in Michigan would be a devastating blow to Romney’s candidacy he likely would not be able to recover from for several reasons.
First of all, Gingrich had already punctured Romney’s inevitability balloon in South Carolina, where Romney was banking on winning to all but cinch the perception the race was over. Gingrich’s win in South Carolina emboldened conservatives that Romney was indeed vulnerable. And Romney and the party establishment’s scorched earth tactics to win Florida just fanned the flames of conservative discontent, just as I predicted it would afterwards.