We will surely know more Tuesday night, but is former Sen. Rick Santorum's recent surge just one more "flavor of the month," and is this really all locked up for former Gov. Mitt Romney?
Have Republicans just thrown up their hands and said, "Aw, heck, this guy is not exactly my cup of java, but he seems to be the best we got!?" After examining all the others, and giving a little push to Santorum in Iowa, are Republicans pretty much done after all the debates, all the vetting, all the "surges?"
As my old partner in our firm, Tom King used to say, "it depends."
Santorum has managed to gain unbelievable momentum with little money, no big surprising moments on the trail or in the debates, and after a lot of serious shoe leather in Iowa.
But if he comes in a strong second it may not matter much…unless Romney falters and Santorum can suddenly raise money. Remember, Romney went through Iowa this time (unlike 2008) with relatively little fire directed at him. The negative ads were all in the can from four years ago but the fire was directed primarily at former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. And, of course, he sank like a rock.
Romney came out pretty unscathed, other than what he has done to himself with his long list of flip-flops, inconsistencies, and pandering to the far right on immigration, healthcare, and social issues. Romney is the used-car-salesman-in-chief, the man who can't resist telling you what you want to hear. Witness the back and forth with the college student in New Hampshire when he told him that if he were president the young man would have a job, if Obama remains president, he wouldn't. Really?
But what if Santorum's surge is real and he leaves the field in the dust and wins this thing? What if money does roll in and he can handle the exposure, two pretty big "ifs" for sure. What if Romney is really "Mr. 25 Percent" and can't seem to close the deal?
A second or third place finish to Romney and Paul may not do it for Santorum. But a big win Tuesday night might set Romney back on his heels. It just might propel Santorum, with perfect timing, into a two-person race with Romney.
If we have learned one thing from all the surges from second-tier candidates this year it is this: Romney is a weak candidate and the Republican voters know it.