Silver: Don't bet against Santorum

One of the reasons I link to Mr. Silver so often despite him being a self identified Democratic pollster is that he does marvelous things with raw data. There are a few - Sean Trende at RCP comes to mind - who has Mr. Silver's gift for insight and analysis of what those numbers mean. But Silver is unique in that he has been disquietingly accurate in most of his projections.

Today, he looks at Santorum's chances for the nomination and has some surprising results.Contrary to coventional wisdom that says he doesn't have a prayer, Silver thinks he has a shot:

Mr. Santorum is a fresher face, comparatively speaking. He clearly did not get much momentum from his strong showing in Iowa. But his Iowa surge had been largely confined to that state to begin with, and he was hurt by the fact that the next state to vote was New Hampshire, a bad fit for him culturally, as well as the fact that he was not announced as the actual winner until after the New Hampshire voting. On Tuesday, by contrast, he earned victories in three states, and he seems to be on the move in national polls as well.

But Mr. Santorum will not be as easy a mark for Mr. Romney as someone like Mr. Gingrich. The results in Florida had seemed to suggest that Mr. Romney could win a state any time he wanted to by blanketing it with advertising dollars. But almost all of those ads were negative, and almost all of them attacked Mr. Gingrich - most of them on his personal failings like his resignation from Congress and his ties to Freddie Mac.

Mr. Romney's attacks on Mr. Santorum, by contrast, have focused on more venial sins: that he is a "career politician" who defended earmarks.

Meanwhile, Mr. Santorum closed strongly and outperformed his polls in several states so far, including Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri and South Carolina (where he was projected to place fourth by the polls but finished in third). That could indicate that voters like Mr. Santorum the more they get to know him - indeed, his favorability ratings are strong among Republican voters - or that his supporters are more enthusiastic. Either quality would be an asset going forward, allowing him to win his share of close calls against Mr. Romney.

Thus, it seems at least possible that Mr. Santorum's momentum will be more sustainable. To have a chance at winning in the delegate count, he will need to supplant Mr. Gingrich as Mr. Romney's major rival in the South. The results in Missouri, a borderline Southern state where Mr. Santorum beat Mr. Romney by 30 points without Mr. Gingrich on the ballot, suggest that he could run strongly if Mr. Gingrich were to bow out.

Unless there is a third act for Gingrich, he will slide into irrelevancy. And the enthusiasm demonstrated for Santorum at his CPAC speech shows just how far Santorum has come in a few weeks. He is the darling of the base now and can be expected to challenge Romney for every delegate between now and the end of the primaries.

InTrade has Santorum's chances at 13%. But as this race has demonstrated, conventional wisdom isn't worth very much, and the smart money may start flowing to the former Pennsylvania senator if he can continue to demonstrate strength against Romney.



One of the reasons I link to Mr. Silver so often despite him being a self identified Democratic pollster is that he does marvelous things with raw data. There are a few - Sean Trende at RCP comes to mind - who has Mr. Silver's gift for insight and analysis of what those numbers mean. But Silver is unique in that he has been disquietingly accurate in most of his projections.

Today, he looks at Santorum's chances for the nomination and has some surprising results.Contrary to coventional wisdom that says he doesn't have a prayer, Silver thinks he has a shot:

Mr. Santorum is a fresher face, comparatively speaking. He clearly did not get much momentum from his strong showing in Iowa. But his Iowa surge had been largely confined to that state to begin with, and he was hurt by the fact that the next state to vote was New Hampshire, a bad fit for him culturally, as well as the fact that he was not announced as the actual winner until after the New Hampshire voting. On Tuesday, by contrast, he earned victories in three states, and he seems to be on the move in national polls as well.

But Mr. Santorum will not be as easy a mark for Mr. Romney as someone like Mr. Gingrich. The results in Florida had seemed to suggest that Mr. Romney could win a state any time he wanted to by blanketing it with advertising dollars. But almost all of those ads were negative, and almost all of them attacked Mr. Gingrich - most of them on his personal failings like his resignation from Congress and his ties to Freddie Mac.

Mr. Romney's attacks on Mr. Santorum, by contrast, have focused on more venial sins: that he is a "career politician" who defended earmarks.

Meanwhile, Mr. Santorum closed strongly and outperformed his polls in several states so far, including Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri and South Carolina (where he was projected to place fourth by the polls but finished in third). That could indicate that voters like Mr. Santorum the more they get to know him - indeed, his favorability ratings are strong among Republican voters - or that his supporters are more enthusiastic. Either quality would be an asset going forward, allowing him to win his share of close calls against Mr. Romney.

Thus, it seems at least possible that Mr. Santorum's momentum will be more sustainable. To have a chance at winning in the delegate count, he will need to supplant Mr. Gingrich as Mr. Romney's major rival in the South. The results in Missouri, a borderline Southern state where Mr. Santorum beat Mr. Romney by 30 points without Mr. Gingrich on the ballot, suggest that he could run strongly if Mr. Gingrich were to bow out.

Unless there is a third act for Gingrich, he will slide into irrelevancy. And the enthusiasm demonstrated for Santorum at his CPAC speech shows just how far Santorum has come in a few weeks. He is the darling of the base now and can be expected to challenge Romney for every delegate between now and the end of the primaries.

InTrade has Santorum's chances at 13%. But as this race has demonstrated, conventional wisdom isn't worth very much, and the smart money may start flowing to the former Pennsylvania senator if he can continue to demonstrate strength against Romney.



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