Guy Benson
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PPP is teasing new numbers showing Santorum pulling ahead of Romney nationally in the primary, but this poll will get even more attention:
 

In a potential Election 2012 matchup, the president attracts 50% of the vote and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney 40%. This is the largest lead the president has enjoyed against Romney in regular polling going back more than a year. It’s also the first time that the president has reached the 50% level of support against Romney.

Rick Santorum now trails the president by four percentage points, 46% to 42%. Rasmussen Reports will now be tracking the Obama-Santorum race on a daily basis. Matchup results are updated daily at 9:30 a.m. Eastern (sign up for free daily e-mail update). Last week, Santorum had a one-point advantage over Obama. However, like Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich before him, Santorum was unable to sustain that advantage beyond a single poll. In the crucial swing state of Ohio, Santorum is now even with the president. Romney trails by four.


The Santorum surge is for real, which isn't great news for Romney.  Then again, this process is cyclical.  The White House will say they're thrilled by this outcome, but there's danger here, too.  With his approval rating ascendant at the moment -- thanks in part to the U3 pop -- the incumbent still only pulls 46 percent against his closest Republican competitor.  Once Republicans stop knifing eacthother during this bloody primary, the unity process will begin, and Obama's negative coverage holiday will end.  Until that time, it'll be a rumble for the nomination -- with Obama as the beneficiary.  That dynamic is nothing new.  Santorum made the case for himself at CPAC this morning, delivering pointed attacks on the president and Mitt Romney flanked by his family (via Greg's post below):
 


 

Romney spoke a few hours later, underlining his conservative bona fides -- such as they exist -- and savaging the current president's "ineptitude and failure."  The main message of Romney's speech today was pretty savvy.  As I've written previously, he cannot credibly attack Santorum from the Right on many policy issues, and process arguments (electability, etc) are difficult to make, especially in light of today's polling.  The former governor's best tactic against Santorum is to emphasize the importance executive leadership, a theme he discussed at length today:
 

I spent 25 years in business, starting at the bottom and going on to help create a great American success story. I led an Olympics out of the shadows of scandal and turned around a state crying out for leadership.  In each of these endeavors, I worked with many talented people, but I was the Chief Executive. Success or failure lay on my shoulders. When tough decisions had to be made, I made them. Leadership as a Chief Executive isn’t about getting a bill out of subcommittee or giving a speech – it’s about setting clear goals and overcoming constant adversity. It’s about sharing credit when times are good and taking responsibility for failure.

I am the only candidate in this race, Republican or Democrat, who has never worked a day in Washington. I don’t have old scores to settle or decades of cloakroom deals to defend.  As conservatives, you’ve learned to be skeptical of this city and its politicians and right you are. My wife and I raised five boys and one of the lessons you learn is that when you hear an excuse that just doesn’t make sense… it’s because it doesn’t make sense. And let me tell you, any politician who tries to convince you that they hated Washington so much that they just couldn’t leave, well, that’s the same politician who will try to sell you a Bridge to Nowhere.


That last sentence is a clear shot across Santorum's bow.  Romney might practice what he preaches on "taking responsibility for failure" by specifically explaining what elements of Romneycare "didn't work" -- a point he often glosses over.  As of this writing, Newt Gingrich is addressing CPAC, delivering a variation the stump speech he's been using since Florida.   One noticeable change: Zero attacks on his Republican competitors.  Hmm.  Reverting to nice Newt, or seeing the writing on the wall?  Ron Paul is not attending CPAC this year.

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Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Senior Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography