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Santorum’s Advantages

As Jonathan discussed earlier, today is a big day for the campaign of Rick Santorum. He is in position to possibly win two out of tonight’s three contests. He will also take with him some momentum from the support he has won from conservative media, most notably the recent endorsements from Michelle Malkin and Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey.

Those endorsements are important in part because they help Santorum build a certain narrative: that he can best unite the party. At this point in the process, being the “not-Romney” is less of a draw than it was before Mitt Romney began winning big in the Northeast, South, and West. Luckily for Santorum, Romney has turned his fire on the former Pennsylvania senator, which makes the argument that Santorum is the “not-Romney” without Santorum having to do so himself. Santorum simply doesn’t have the time or money left to build campaign momentum on the claim he belongs in second place. He does have two advantages, however.

First, Santorum has turned one of his earlier weaknesses into an asset. In the past, he has too often gone on the defensive, especially around reporters. This made him seem thin-skinned. We might have expected the intense pressure, long hours, and negative atmosphere of this campaign, as well as the health scare of his daughter, Bella, to exacerbate that quality. Instead, he has seemed to get calmer, sharper, and more patient as the campaign has dragged on. It has not gone unnoticed, as Morrissey wrote:

Santorum has demonstrated a level of personal integrity in this race that outshines the rest of the field.  Santorum has campaigned with blue-collar Reagan Democrats in mind, pushing for an economic plan that would revitalize manufacturing and small business.  He could easily have tipped over into class-warfare populism while Gingrich and Romney bashed each other over their work at Bain and Freddie Mac in order to ingratiate himself with that sector by playing on latent envy. Instead, he defended capitalism and both of his competitors on the campaign trail more effectively than either could defend themselves. In contrast, Romney keeps demonstrating a lack of fluency in conservative politics and philosophy, while Gingrich has conducted a personal, angry campaign that threatens to reinforce every negative stereotype about conservatives, both at times putting themselves and their ambitions above the party they seek to lead.

The other advantage for Santorum is his outstanding debate preparation. The next debate is in two weeks. If Santorum can get a couple of big wins tonight, he will ride a wave of free media until then. At that point, he may be neck and neck with Romney in terms of primary and caucus victories. It will look like a different race from the last time they shared a debate stage, and if Santorum bests Romney again, it will be.


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