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Can Rick Santorum Generate Another Surge Into Super Tuesday?

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Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum narrowly missed a golden opportunity to defeat front-runner Mitt Romney in Michigan (a native of Rick Santorumthe state) on Tuesday, losing 41 to 38 percent.  On that same day, Santorum got crushed in Arizona, losing by 20 points.

Santorum now has to regroup before Super Tuesday, when over 400 delegates are up for grabs in 10 states. More delegates will be awarded on Super Tuesday than in the first two months of the Republican presidential race combined.  

Can Santorum generate another surge leading into Super Tuesday? Or will the Romney Money Machine finish him off?

Santorum can stay in the race, and pull off some key victories, if he follows this three part plan.


#1 Focus Your Resources in Ohio

Ohio’s March 6th GOP primary now looms as a substantial test of whether Santorum’s momentum can be restored.

Ohio allocates its 66 presidential delegates proportionally, so it’s unlikely that any candidate will achieve a decisive advantage in that realm. But of all the primaries left on the calendar, none carries quite the same symbolic weight as Ohio, a premier general election battleground at the center of the industrial midwest. If you can win in Ohio, you will win the presidency. In fact, Ohio has gone the way of the winner of the presidential race in each of the last 11 elections.

Plus, Ohio’s demographics favor Santorum.

It’s the backyard to Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania. It’s a Rust Belt, union-heavy place where Santorum’s economic focus on reviving manufacturing should appeal to voters. It’s a place where Santorum currently leads, with the RealClearPolitics rolling poll average putting him in front there by 8.3 percentage points.

Ohio also has a higher percentage of evangelical Christians than Michigan, another advantage for a rock-solid social conservative, like Santorum.

Speaking of social issues brings me to my next part of the plan.

#2 Downplay Social Issues and Focus Your Message on Economic Issues

Santorum must refocus his message on the economy in order to appeal to blue-collar workers and the middle class, with less of a focus on social issues. Santorum's tendency to become involved with many social issues is damaging his camapaign.

I think most Americans are fine with Santorum being religious, even being very religious.

But when he starts spouting off on Sunday shows about how reading John F. Kennedy’s landmark Separation of Church and State speech makes him want to “throw up”—well, he starts to look a little crazy-eyed and irresponsible.

Likewise, when he talks about how President Obama sounds like a “snob” for wanting all American kids to have the opportunity of higher education—well, he sounds like he’s anti-education. Furthermore, he comes off as a hypocrite because Santorum has two advanced degrees himself.

And when he starts talking like he wants to severely restrict women’s access to some forms of birth control, it’s so long, small government—as libertarian-minded people and independent women start fleeing the room in droves.

Yes, comments like this make it easy for the media and the Romney campaign to define him as extreme and unelectable.

Santorum seems to have gotten the message. In his concession speech Tuesday, he talked about gas prices and manufacturing rather than the evils of contraception and Obama being a "snob" for promoting college.

His ability to discuss middle class suffering during the debates is one of the reasons that have catapulted Santorum from the single digits to a legitimate contender. Raised in public housing in an industrial steel town, Santorum proudly touts his blue-collar beginnings. Consequently, he projects empathy and understanding when other candidates seemed uncomfortable talking about poverty. And he doesn’t just talk a good game— he has proposed policies that might help solve the problem, like a controversial big idea to eliminate corporate income taxes on manufacturing plants here in the USA.

This blue collar persona sharply contrasts with the image of Mitt Romney as Mr. One Percent, an image Republicans have done at least as much as Democrats to foster. And it appears that Romney continues to make himself vulnerable on this issue with his own verbal slips. A favorite from last week was Romney relating to folks at the Daytona 500 by saying “I have some great friends that are NASCAR team owners.”

Not exactly the way to appeal to the NASCAR crowd, Mitt.

So if Santorum can stay focused on economy and not social issues, this will help him with the next part:


#3 Repair the Damage You Have Made With Catholics

Santorum won half of evangelical Christian voters, but he lost the crucial Catholic swing vote to the Mormon Romney by six points in both Michigan and Arizona. Strikingly, Santorum had "hit hard” on issues he believed would win over his fellow Catholics, attacking Obama's rule on contraceptive coverage and assailing JFK on church-state separation," saying the first Catholic president's famous speech on the subject makes him "want to throw up."

To his credit, Santorum has attempted to clarify his JKF comments. So it appears that Santorum is not completely clueless with respect to his fellow Catholics.

If Santorum can follow these three simple rules, he will have success during Super Tuesday—maybe so much success that the media pundits may be calling Santorum the frontrunner instead of Romney.

And if Santorum can manage to secure the GOP nomination, the Democrats may have to face a more formidable opponent than Romney. Although the Democrats will try to use Santorum's family-focused, socially conservative stands to crucify him, pocketbook issues will decide the Presidential election.

With Santorum as the Republican nominee, sweater vest and all, instead of Romney, President Obama would lose his foil, and his advantage as the sole candidate concerned about working Americans.
 

Contact Erik Uliasz at euliasz@philly2philly.com

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