Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has yet to overcome what could be the biggest problem for his Republican presidential campaign--his shattering loss when he ran for Senate re-election in 2006.
Santorum's electability didn't emerge as an issue when he was an afterthought in the Republican race, but now that he has surged to the lead, it will move to the front burner.
A national New York Times-CBS News poll released Tuesday found that 30 percent of Republican primary voters support Santorum, with 27 percent behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Twelve percent back Texas Rep. Ron Paul, and 10 percent support former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
A month ago, Santorum was in third place behind Romney and Gingrich in the Times-CBS poll.
Electability is likely to be used against Santorum as he campaigns in Arizona and Michigan, which hold the next two primary contests Feb. 28. He is expected to be the target of TV ads sponsored by Romney and the political action committee supporting him, along with other attacks coming from Gingrich's campaign.
Already, some Romney supporters are making the electability point. They argue that Santorum may be too interested in waging the culture wars, and in the process is alienating independents and swing voters as he bills himself as a very strong conservative. This is what he did in Pennsylvania in 2006 when he lost.
Santorum was seeking his third Senate term. He says he was badly hurt by his association with the unpopular administration of GOP President George W. Bush.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Romney supporter, expressed concern Monday that Santorum went beyond the pale in the past few days by saying that women soldiers should not serve on the front lines. One of McDonnell's daughters served with the American military in Iraq.
Santorum is in the spotlight due to his three victories in GOP contests last week in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. Romney, the longtime front-runner, came back with a win at the Maine caucuses over the weekend.
Romney is expected to focus his criticism on Santorum as never before as they compete in the next round of nominating contests.