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Does Near-Tie With Santorum Actually Benefit Romney?

S.E. Cupp at the New York Daily News makes an interesting case for why Mitt Romney benefits from his close call with Rick Santorum:

Now, prepare to see Santorum in every headline, on every news show, rising in every poll. The other candidates (what’s left of them) have him to go after him this week. And Santorum has his third place finisher, Ron Paul to attack (we got a preview of that last week). The pundits and odds makers will devote a substantial amount of airtime to hyperventilating about whether the Santorum surge can stick, and whether Paul’s rabid fans will follow him from Iowa to New Hampshire.

I’m not so sure Santorum will forgo attacking Romney in order to go after Ron Paul. (What’s the point? Paul has no chance at the nomination, and his supporters aren’t exactly Santorum’s target audience.) As for Newt Gingrich – really the only other candidate left, since Paul is untenable, and Bachmann and Perry both seem to be on the way out – he’ll certainly have no reservations attacking Romney at the upcoming debate.

But Cupp’s main point, that the bulk of the media scrutiny will be on Santorum, is a good one. Romney is boring, squeaky clean, and whatever skeletons might remain in his closet probably aren’t the salacious type. Santorum, on the other hand – just Google him. He’s the boogeyman of the gay rights and pro-choice movements; he’s said some provocative things about gay marriage. And he’s a part of the whole Religious Right cadre that the left always worries is resurgent. If you have any doubts the knives are out, just watch this video of Alan Colmes mocking the way Santorum handled the death of his child.

TPM and HuffPo have probably already dispatched entire teams of reporters to dig into Santorum’s religious and family background. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a fever pitch of hysterical left-wing scrutiny that Romney probably wouldn’t start to see until after he secured the nomination.