Guy Benson

We've already stumbled through the electoral fantasyland inhabited by mainstream media figures and certain GOP elites alike, so let's return to reality, shall we?  This week's polling data is fascinating on several fronts.  Let's begin with the GOP nominating contest -- you know, the one with actual declared candidates vying for votes.  Sen. Rick Santorum holds a ten-point national lead over Gov. Mitt Romney among Republican voters: 
 

In the Feb. 15-19 Gallup Daily tracking rolling average, Santorum is ahead of Romney by 36% to 26%, with Newt Gingrich at 13% and Ron Paul at 11%. This marks Santorum's largest lead to date. Santorum had moved to within two points of Romney, 30% to 32%, by the end of last week. Prior to Santorum's surge, Romney led Santorum 37% to 16% in Gallup Daily tracking ending Feb. 6, the day before Santorum won primaries and caucuses in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado.


That's the unalloyed good news for Santorum backers.  A double-digit lead is hard to argue with.  That being said, Romney backers are likely to emphasize the results (and importance) of another recent Gallup survey that tweaks the question:
 

In a separate USA Today/Gallup survey conducted Feb. 16-19, all Americans were asked which of the two candidates -- Romney or Santorum -- they believed would have the best chance of beating Barack Obama in November. Overall, 54% of Americans named Romney and 29% chose Santorum. Fewer Republicans are undecided on this issue, leaving 58% who say Romney has the best chance of beating Obama, while 32% choose Santorum.


As we've seen throughout the cycle, these national numbers tend to ebb and flow based on primary results and other outside events.  Next week's contests in Michigan and Arizona will be especially pivotal because they'll set the table for Super Tuesday.  Tuesday's results will be especially impactful because there are no debates between February 28th and March 6th; both scheduled forums have been canceled.  Romney maintains a slight lead in Arizona, far smaller than it was at the beginning of the month.  It also remains to be seen how the Sheriff Babeu kerfuffle will affect the race, if at all (Babeu was a Romney surrogate).  The dynamic of the Michigan brouhaha is also shifting.  Last week, Santorum opened up a large lead in the Great Lakes State, but brand new surveys show the race is now either much closer or tied:
 

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are in a statistical dead heat in Michigan a week ahead of the vote, according to a new poll of Republican voters in the state. Romney took 32 percent and Santorum 30 percent in a one-day poll of Michigan GOP voters by Mitchell/Rosetta Stone conducted on Monday. Romney's lead is within the poll's margin of error.


Couple these numbers with the the Santorum camp's new expectations management tactic in Michigan, and it seems as though a Romney comeback is brewing.  It sounds like he's hitting something of a groove on the stump, too.  When a Canadian questioner told Romney he couldn't have his national healthcare card at a Tuesday rally, Romney deadpanned, "I don't want it."  The crowd erupted.  Romney also plans to roll out a major tax and entitlement reform proposal in Detroit on Friday.  Conservative economist and television host Larry Kudlow has seen the plan and pronounces it "bold."  Tearing down your opponents with high-dollar attack ads is one thing; commending your own goals and talents to voters is another. Could Romney finally be pivoting to a "positive, results-focused campaign" some of us have been asking for?  The new polling also contains good news for Republicans, generally.  President Obama's temporary blip is waning, dragging down his head-to-head numbers against Santorum and Romney.  Rasmussen pegs each Republican within two points of Obama, while Gallup puts Romney ahead by four and Santorum in a virtual dead heat:
 

Meanwhile, President Obama's standing against two potential Republican rivals has ebbed a bit. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney leads the president 50%-46% among registered voters, Romney's strongest showing against him to date. Obama edges former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum by a single percentage point, 49%-48%.


Obama's job approval is edging back down into the low-to-mid 40s and is back underwater, where it has languished for months.  As I indicated in my previous post, bad housing news and grim unemployment forecasts probably won't help his cause, either.  Not to worry, the Washington Post assures us -- Obama's still reeling in campaign cash hand-over-fist, and he has much more cash on hand than all of his possible opponents combined.  True.  But then again, he has the luxury of not facing a contested primary.  It also helps when you can dress up campaigning as official business, and stick taxpayers with the tab (yes, this is a bipartisan exercise, but Obama's abused it more than his predecessors).  While we're at it, let's not forget Republicans' huge SuperPAC advantage, which prompted The One to abandon his "principles" a few weeks back.  We now know why he did it:
 

Newly filed financial reports offer a fairly strong clue as to why President Obama's campaign decided to get behind super PAC fundraising.  Priorities USA, the political committee founded by former Obama aides, raised a grand total of $59,000 in January.  That's enough to buy a snazzy car with "Obama 2012" stickers on it or perhaps cover travel expenses for staff, but not enough to compete on the airwaves. By comparison, the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future group raised $6.6 million in January. Winning our Future, the pro-Newt Gingrich fund, raised $11 million. 


I'll leave you with the latest attack ad running in Michigan.  It targets Rick Santorum as a "fake fiscal conservative."  Romney World strikes again?  Not this time:
 


The confounding Romney-Paul alliance lives on.


UPDATE - There's another unhelpful factor at play for Obama: Rising gas prices.  This trend hits working Americans where it hurts and opens the door for the GOP to whack the president hard on his pathetic Keystone decision, about which Jay Carney is still lying.


Guy Benson

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

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography