The Santorum Surge

Updated
 
The Santorum Surge
The Santorum Surge
Gallup

Rick Santorum spent much of 2011 as an electoral afterthought, struggling to compete in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. He enjoyed a brief surge in support in early January, when the former senator managed to eke out a win in the Iowa caucuses, but it soon subsided.

The GOP race has, however, changed quite a bit over the last 10 days. As hard as it may be to believe, a Public Policy Polling survey released over the weekend showed Santorum not only leading the Republican field, but ahead by a double-digit margin.

Riding a wave of momentum from his trio of victories on Tuesday Rick Santorum has opened up a wide lead in PPP’s newest national poll. He’s at 38% to 23% for Mitt Romney, 17% for Newt Gingrich, and 13% for Ron Paul.

Part of the reason for Santorum’s surge is his own high level of popularity. 64% of voters see him favorably to only 22% with a negative one. But the other, and maybe more important, reason is that Republicans are significantly souring on both Romney and Gingrich. Romney’s favorability is barely above water at 44/43, representing a 23 point net decline from our December national poll when he was +24 (55/31).

In a hypothetical one-on-one race, PPP shows Santorum leading Romney 50% to 28%. Obviously, when the ostensible frontrunner is trailing this badly in mid-February, there’s a problem.

The latest Gallup tracking poll still shows Romney ahead, but his lead over Santorum has shrunk from 20 to 7 points since the beginning of the month. Indeed, Santorum’s support hasn’t been this high in a Gallup poll since the race began. (In this image, Romney is the gray line, Santorum is the dark green line, and Gingrich is the orange line.)

What’s more, in a rather striking move, a new National Review editorial, released this morning, suggests Gingrich should withdraw in order to give Santorum a stronger shot against Romney.

Despite all of this, the odds of a Romney nomination are still quite good, thanks to his massive financial advantage, and the fact that Gingrich appears likely to stay in the race, which will divide the anti-Romney vote in the coming months. That said, between the polls, last week’s defeats, Romney’s awful unfavorability ratings, and unease within the Republican establishment, if the Romney camp isn’t feeling nervous, it’s not paying close enough attention.

The former governor’s campaign has been here before, and beat back the Gingrich challenge by spending heavily to destroy the former Speaker. Since the Romney campaign tends to have a playbook with only one page, the onslaught against Santorum will likely begin any minute now.

The Santorum Surge

Updated