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Santorum gaining ground before Tuesday's primaries shows progression of both candidate and campaign

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The chatter among those who cover politics Monday has centered around Rick Santorum's sudden uptick in polls and endorsements, perhaps indicating that some are buying in to his claim that Newt Gingrich had his chance to be the main challenger to front-runner Mitt Romney, and failed. 

The latest polls surveying the states set to hold their GOP caucuses tomorrow have Santorum jumping to second behind Romney in Colorado and slightly ahead of the former Massachusetts governor in Minnesota. The last PPP poll on Missouri found Santorum leading Romney by 11 points before the state's Tuesday "beauty king" Republican primary(Gingrich did not qualify for the state's ballot.)

The news may justify the former Pennsylvania Senator's decision to skip out early before the Nevada GOP caucuses held last Saturday in order to campaign in Colorado and Minnesota. Santorum finished last in Nevada where Romney thoroughly dominated, at the end of the day tallying a higher number of votes than the other three Republican candidates combined.

Santorum has also been the topic of conversation Monday within two of the nation's most highly regarded conservative publications; The Weekly Standard and The National Review.

In piece titled "Again, Why Not Santorum?" Quinn Hillyer of the National Review writes:

"Rick Santorum can win the Republican nomination. Rick Santorum can indeed beat Barack Obama in the fall. And Rick Santorum can and would govern at least as conservatively as Ronald Reagan did.

The evidence of his principled, mainstream conservatism is unambiguous, as is his record of winning long-shot races. What hasn’t been fully understood yet is why, and how, Santorum could win the Republican nomination and the presidency."

[....]

"For all of Gingrich’s and Romney’s vaunted debating skills, both of them have put forth at least two real clunkers of debate performances. Santorum hasn’t had a single bad debate or a single major stumble, and his reviews have become only more favorable with each contest. In a race where the economic lay of the land disfavors the incumbent, flash matters less than solidity in a challenger. It probably won’t require some sort of game-changing debate performance for a Republican to defeat Obama — but a game-changing gaffe or embarrassment could well lose it. Of all the Republican candidates, Santorum has shown himself the least prone to such gaffes."

In William Kristol's "Romney vs. Santorum?"  within The Weekly Standard, we once again hear the argument that a Romney-Santorum bout might be the best moving forward:

"The Romney-Gingrich slugfest of negativity seems to have produced a low turnout in Florida and Nevada. But the choice before you remains no less important than it was before all the negative ads started airing. Indeed, you who will vote tomorrow have a chance to get us beyond the unseemly spectacle of the last couple of weeks. You can put Romney on a likely path to the nomination. Or you can create the possibility of a serious and constructive Romney vs. Santorum race."

Santorum has recently gained a pack of official endorsements from conservative commentators and legislators including Michelle Malkin, David Limbaugh, and former Rep. Bob Schaffer.

A poll basement dweller in the early stages of the campaign, it is truly remarkable to see how far Santorum has come. Going into the primary season Santorum was known for occasionally appearing as a Fox News commentator, the hateful media campaign against him by those in disagreement with his ideas of marriage, a crushing defeat in his last election in 2006, or unlike his household name rivals Gingrich and Romney, not known at all.

Hillyer is correct in his analysis that Santorum can tout a conservative record while being far less gaffe-prone than Gingrich or Romney, and much closer to the mainstream than Texas Rep. Ron Paul. He has stuck around with far less money than any of his opponents, and is yet to have a major scandal rattle his campaign and momentum. POLITICO's Alexander Burns summarizes Santorum's progress:

"In some ways, Santorum is just the beneficiary of elite discomfort with Romney and Newt Gingrich, who leave upscale conservatives cold thanks to their perceived lack of substance (Romney) and total incapacity for political or mental discipline (Gingrich).

He's also a candidate who consistently shows fluency when it comes to policy and has a real conservative record. Santorum's message — focused on revitalizing American manufacturing and taking an aggressive approach to containing Iran — has some genuinely original elements to it.

The rap on Santorum is that none of that matters without a far superior campaign organization and treasury than the ones he has. A more magnetic political personality would help, too. But win or lose, the Pennsylvanian's image has come a long way since 2006, when he was run out of town as a dim and angry culture warrior."

Indeed.

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