David Horsey / Los Angeles Times
Desperate for the love of conservatives, Mitt Romney must be heartbroken to see all the flowers and chocolate-covered strawberries going to Rick Santorum.
In the last couple of days, Santorum has caught or overtaken Romney in key polls. In Michigan, the state where Romney grew up and where his dad was governor, Santorum is favored among primary voters by 39% to Romney's 24%. In the latest national poll by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, Santorum edges Romney, 30% to 28%.
Santorum seems to be winning the hearts of evangelicals and tea party Republicans who have simply never been all that turned on by Romney. In fact, he may finally be emerging as the lone alternative for conservatives, now that Newt Gingrich is fading and all the other options have gone away. The conservative National Review has called for Newt to bow out to give Santorum a clean shot at the more moderate Romney.
For the first time, pundits are beginning to back away from what has been the almost universal conventional wisdom that, at the end of the day, Romney will be the Republican nominee. Suddenly, a different scenario seems plausible.
Santorum still doesn't have the money and organization that Romney does, but he has the Big Mo. His prospects look decent in the next big primaries in Michigan and Arizona and the issues dominating the news -- gay marriage, birth control and religious freedom -- are exactly in tune with his message. On Monday night, he was in Washington state where, earlier in the day, Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a bill legalizing gay marriage. Santorum's simultaneous visit was no coincidence. The Washington caucuses are coming up on March 3 and the gay marriage issue could motivate a lot of evangelicals to turn out for the right candidate. Santorum is proving to be their man.
So, it's a sad Valentine's Day for Romney. He's not feeling the love, he's feeling the pressure.
It's a pretty good day for another politician, though -- and I don't mean Santorum. The nasty fight on the right is scaring away independent voters and they are shifting their very fickle affections back to President Obama. He now leads Romney among independents by nine percentage points. He is also well ahead of both Republicans in the Pew survey of all registered voters, topping Romney 52% to 44% and Santorum 53% to 43%.
In the race to be America's political sweetheart, eveything's coming up roses for Obama on this Valentine's Day.