New Poll Has Santorum Neck-and-Neck With Iowa Leaders Romney, Paul

Kevin Glass

1/2/2012 8:05:00 AM - Kevin Glass
Iowa voters head for their caucuses tomorow, and a new Public Policy Polling poll released shows three Republicans within two percenatge points of each other. PPP has Ron Paul at 20%, Mitt Romney at 19% and Rick Santorum at 18%.

What's more, PPP finds underlying trends favoring Rick Santorum.

Santorum's net favorability of 60/30 makes him easily the most popular candidate in the field. No one else's favorability exceeds 52%. He may also have more room to grow in the final 48 hours of the campaign than the other front runners: 14% of voters say he's their second choice to 11% for Romney and only 8% for Paul. Santorum's taken the lead with two key groups of Republican voters: with Tea Partiers he's at 23% to 18% for Gingrich, 16% for Paul, 15% for Bachmann, and only 12% for Romney. And with Evangelicals he's at 24% to 16% for Gingrich, and 15% for Paul and Romney.

For his part, new top-tier candidate Santorum is now playing the expectations game. With all the media attention that's focused on his rise recently, he's still been a universal third place in the polls, and still unlikely to finish in first. He says he's been happy merely with his momentum in the last two weeks.

On a "Meet the Press" interview yesterday, Santorum was asked about his need to win Iowa, and responded "That's really pretty funny, actually, because ten days ago, I was at 5% and every question I got was, 'Why don't you pack it up, why don't you endorse another candidate?' And now ten days later you're saying, oh, you got to win in order to meet - exceed expectations. Look, we feel very good about the way things are going on the ground."

Santorum still has a pretty large mountain to climb to the Republican nomination if he wins Iowa. The last few days, however, Iowa voters have been quite friendly in giving his campaign a powerful boost. Tuesday will see if he can capitalize on that, and make something more of it going forward.