Santorum appears to be the latest GOP love affair. I have previously written him off, but he’s now leading in some national polls, and even leading in some states that had been assumed to be safely in Romney’s camp.
I’m not surprised that Gingrich has fallen off – the reason that Romney’s attacks worked against him so well is that there’s so much to attack. He’s made enough controversial votes that he’s vulnerable from the right AND the left, his personal life raises a lot of eyebrows, and his professional life post-Speakership could hardly have been worse for the current political climate in the GOP.
Romney will turn that money-machine against Santorum before the next round of primaries, but it will much more difficult to get right. Santorum hasn’t had a long enough career to have been forced into really controversial positions, and he’s been consistently conservative, at least on social issues. His personal life has been squeaky clean, and his easy going, golly-gee-shucks demeanor won’t make for the “prickly Newt” moments that sent Gingrich’s unfavorables into the stratosphere.
Santorum’s social issue positions are pretty far outside the mainstream in American politics, which will hurt him in the general election – Obama will have no problem attacking him on those issues. But Romney’s problem is that he needs to convince GOP voters that he’s a true conservative – so attacking Santorum for being “too conservative” on social issues is counterproductive. He can’t attack from the right and can’t attack his personal life. His best bet will probably be to attack him on general “electability,” given that in Santorum’s last run at a general election, he lost by 19 point in a state that will be a crucial swing state in 2012.