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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Santorum’s Fat Tuesday Spells Trouble for GOP

Perhaps the most relevant implications of Santorum’s Tuesday trifecta are: 1. Romney’s support is weak 2. Santorum edges up in the GOP veepstakes, and 3. Newt’s support is much weaker than might be expected after his big SC win.
The votes in MN, CO and MO were two caucuses and a beauty contest, respectively, and the turnout was low in all three. It is tempting to dismiss their results entirely, except that these are swing states and Santorum did win them all. They may signal some movement in his direction. It’s nothing for Dems to lose sleep over yet, since Santorum’s views are pretty extreme across the spectrum of major issues.
Santorum does defend conservative economic policies more artfully than do his competitors for the GOP nod, which is why he has done better with blue collar voters in his congressional and senatorial elections than have most Republicans. He has on occasion supported causes championed by labor, such as a minimum wage hike and steel tariffs, and he has been the GOP field’s most vocal advocate of re-invigorating U.S. manufacturing.
But his smokescreen defenses of more tax breaks for the rich, de-regulation, partial privatization of social security and draconian cuts in social programs are not likely to hold up well under the light of increasingly intense national scrutiny. It is even harder to see how his extremist views on social issues, which include criticism of contraception, won’t alienate millions of swing voters, particularly Republicans of a libertarian bent. And he is not exactly ‘Mr. Clean’ when it comes to coddling with lobbyists.
Still, Santorum’s three wins make a case that he can generate some excitement with the conservative base, which is a good quality in a veep candidate. He just might be able to help Romney in PA, as well as with Catholic blue collar voters in general. He has earned a spot on the veep short list.
Newt wasn’t on the ballot in MO Tuesday. And his weak showings in CO (3rd) and MN (4th) suggest that his widely-ridiculed Occupy the Moon proposal may have damaged his chances. (Memo to Newt: Not every brain fart should be loudly trumpeted).
Santorum’s Fat Tuesday does nothing to dismiss the mounting evidence that the GOP field — each candidate included — is so flawed that their nominee will likely need a sudden economic downturn or some other disaster to get traction against the incumbent. At the very least, Santorum has increased the odds that the GOP field of presidential candidates is in for a long, grueling slog, while President Obama uses the opportunity raise money and shore up his coalition.

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