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Is Santorum About to Get His Close-Up?

Candidates seeking to fill the role of conservative alternative to frontrunner Mitt Romney have not been in short supply, but as one by one they fall by the wayside, there always appear to be more waiting for their close-up. If, as expected, Herman Cain’s weak defense of his 9-9-9 plan and his ridiculous confusion about abortion sends his poll numbers plummeting, the question is whether Republicans will decide to give any of the others in the race another look in the upcoming weeks. After Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and then Cain all had their moments in the spotlight, can Rick Santorum actually have a chance?

If so, it will be more the result of his rivals’ failures than anything else. Nevertheless, if Tea Partiers and social conservatives who have rejected the other possibilities but still can’t abide Romney are looking for an alternative, Santorum is hoping his moment is about to arrive.

In Santorum’s favor is the fact that despite barely registering in the national polls, he has done fairly well in all of the debates. Even more important is the fact that unlike Herman Cain, who seems to have devoted more energy to promoting his ghost-written campaign autobiography than in retail politics in the crucial early primary and caucus states, Santorum has invested what little resources he has in developing a viable ground game in Iowa. As Politico reports, Santorum’s quiet but effective work there may give him a solid chance for a good showing in the state’s caucus if not the possibility of an outright upset.

Santorum is also well placed to take advantage of Cain’s abortion confusion. Though the former Pennsylvania senator’s hard core stand on social issues may not work everywhere, it could be effective in Iowa. Though Cain has been leading in Iowa state polls, it is to be expected that social conservatives, whose backing has been crucial to the victory of virtually every Republican to win the caucus, will not stick with a candidate like Cain, who doesn’t know the difference between “pro-life” and “choice.”

Can Santorum’s patience be vindicated? The answer is that it is unlikely but entirely possible.

After all, Michele Bachmann, who was riding high in early August and was thought then to be a lock in Iowa, has run out of steam and money (her campaign workers haven’t been paid for weeks). Cain’s “flavor of the month” tag is about to expire. And nobody takes Newt Gingrich seriously as anything but an entertaining debater (taking part in the debates appears to be the former speaker’s main reason for running). If you assume Rick Perry won’t get back those who dumped him after his debate fiascos, that does leave Santorum as the next in line.

However, the main obstacle to Santorum’s improbable scenario for a victory in Iowa is still Perry. The Texas governor has one resource that has always eluded Santorum’s campaign: cash. Perry has raised enough money to carry on his quest for the presidency beyond the early primaries despite the setbacks he has already encountered.

While Romney could put a quick end to the GOP race if he is able to sneak in and take Iowa while his rivals divide the conservative vote, if one of the others is able to squeak out a win in the Hawkeye state, they will get the mantle of 2012’s Mike Huckabee, the right-winger who hung around the longest of any of the losing Republican contenders in 2008.

If Cain is crashing and Perry’s second wind is unable to propel him back into the first tier, it may be that conservatives will finally get around to giving Santorum a second look. While the notion of the abrasive Northeasterner being the folksy Huckabee’s successor may be a stretch, Cain’s abortion foolishness may be just the opening to give him a long shot’s chance at staying in the race.


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