Daniel Doherty

This is not good news for Team Santorum:

GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum is losing support in his home state of Pennsylvania, as a new poll out today shows Mitt Romney within striking distance in his rival's backyard.

Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, leads Romney 30% to 28% among GOP voters in the Franklin & Marshall College Poll. In February, Santorum had a 29-point lead in the same survey.

One key finding that highlights the GOP race's volatility in Pennsylvania: An unprecedented four out of five voters are undecided. The Keystone State primary is April 24.

Ron Paul has 9% in the Franklin & Marshall College Poll, followed by Newt Gingrich with 6% support.

Considering the fact that two presidential candidates have already won their home states (Mitt Romney won both of his, as it happens), these numbers must be deeply troubling for the Santorum campaign. After all, the former Senator has staked his candidacy on winning the delegate-rich Pennsylvania primary. (Remember, for example, when he addressed a crowd of enthusiastic supporters in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania after losing the Illinois contest? “We have five weeks to a big win,” he shouted without hesitation, an obvious reference to his home state. A little more than a week later, I wonder, is he regretting those words?)

FLASHBACK:

But this begs an important question: How has Rick Santorum lost so much support in recent weeks?

Last month, almost two-thirds (63 percent) of Republicans said they had a strongly or somewhat favorable opinion of Mr. Santorum with one in five (20 percent) feeling strongly or somewhat unfavorable.

In the latest poll, his favorability rating dropped to somewhat more than half (54 percent) as unfavorable views rose to more than a quarter (26 percent).

Could this comment have anything to do with his sinking numbers? I'll let you decide. In any case, as Guy pointed out yesterday, Mitt Romney is likely to win all three presidential primaries -- Maryland, Wisconsin and Washington DC -- leading up to the all-important Keystone State contest. If this happens, Rick Santorum’s hopes of winning the bulk of the 72 delegates in Pennsylvania will be next to impossible.

Indeed, a loss at home would almost certainly deliver the fatal blow to his campaign. To make matters worse, there is no conceivable way – even if Santorum does win -- he can garner the requisite 1144 delegates and officially clinch the nomination. Read this. That being said, a victory in Pennsylvania would give the former Senator some much-needed momentum and reinforce the belief that a brokered convention in August is at least possible.

Remember, too, that the last time Santorum campaigned for votes in Pennsylvania was during his 2006 Senate reelection campaign. And we all know how that turned out. But, as mentioned above, the silver lining is that 80 percent of voters are still undecided. Surveys conducted this election season, moreover, are often inaccurate – and at times – downright wrong. Above all, the Frank & Marshall survey underscores just how volatile this race will be, and suggests that the former Pennsylvania Senator might be the first – but perhaps not the last – Republican presidential candidate to lose a primary in his native state.


Daniel Doherty

Daniel Doherty is Townhall's Deputy News Editor. Follow him on Twitter @danpdoherty.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography