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Reads and Reactions: Santorum’s Rise


Our last Reads and Reactions came just two weeks ago, but that was when Mitt Romney was the clear front-runner in the polls. He was about to notch a commanding win in Nevada, Rick Santorum was polling in the midteens nationally and Newt Gingrich was the main anti-Romney candidate.

But, as FiveThirtyEight pointed out, Mr. Romney had yet to finish in front in one area of the country: the Midwest.

Nate Silver wrote on Feb. 5: “Imagine … that Mr. Santorum wins both Minnesota and Missouri. That could revive his campaign, especially given that he also took Iowa. Mr. Santorum is, in many ways, a more dangerous opponent for Mr. Romney than Mr. Gingrich at this point.”

FiveThirtyEight gets plenty wrong, but not this one. Mr. Santorum won not only those two states, but he upset Mr. Romney in Colorado as well. At the very least, Mr. Santorum has tacked on a few extra miles onto Mr. Romney’s race.

Mr. Romney is still the most probable nominee, but he seems to have lost his air of inevitability, which may change his campaign’s calculus. At The American Prospect, Patrick Caldwell highlighted Mr. Romney’s somewhat lacking field operation, something FiveThirtyEight has noticed, too. Mr. Caldwell wrote:

Romney has built a campaign that is just good enough to dispatch a lackluster field of opponents. Santorum’s sudden rise in the polls threatens that. A meager field staff would have been sufficient to dispatch Romney’s competitors when he was the runaway front-runner, yet might not be enough to right his path now that he’s vulnerable.

Not only does Mr. Romney seem to have lost the “inevitable” tag, his “most electable” tag is also in dispute. Nathaniel Rakich, at his Baseballot blog, wrote that Mr. Romney’s inability to connect with white, working-class voters would at least partially negate one of President Obama’s chief weaknesses — an inability to connect with white, working-class voters. “Much of Romney’s advantage derives from the fact that he is perceived to be strongest in a matchup with Obama — in other words, the most electable Republican,” Mr. Rakich wrote. “But given this new information, the candidate with the most credible claim to that mantle may be Rick Santorum.”

Mr. Romney’s rocky stretch has even renewed talk of a brokered convention. The Week magazine had a great overview of how a brokered convention would work, how it might play out and why it’s still unlikely.

Next up are Michigan and Arizona on Feb. 28. FiveThirtyEight’s Michigan forecast has Mr. Santorum as a 72 percent favorite to win the state. Jonathan Bernstein, writing at The Washington Post, thinks those odds are too kind to Mr. Santorum — and Mr. Silver raised questions about them earlier today. Still, Mr. Bernstein laid out the significance of a Romney loss in Michigan, saying it would — at a minimum — prolong the Republican nominating process well beyond Super Tuesday on March 6.


The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery looks at fears that the end of the payroll tax cut will help sink the economy. Check out the graphic, too.

At Talking Points Memo, Kyle Leighton argued that low G.O.P. turnout in the primary may hurt the party in November.

Our colleagues put together an interactive graphic on the distribution of government benefits.

At the Columbia Journalism Review, Curtis Brainard looked at what influences public opinion on climate change.

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.