THE BLOG

Is Santorum Missing the Boat in Arizona?

02/17/2012 02:23 pm ET | Updated Apr 18, 2012

With simultaneous victories in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado, Rick Santorum's campaign has created serious doubt about the inevitability of Mitt Romney's nomination.

This trifecta gave his candidacy instant credibility. As a result, his poll numbers shot up overnight. Nationally, he went from almost 20 points behind Romney prior to these victories to dead even or better with him immediately afterwards.

Since there is no national primary, but rather sequential statewide primaries and caucuses, the significance of the national surge is that it is likely to be reflected in many individual states. But individual state votes are themselves impacted by knowledge of previous votes which tend to define who is a credible candidate.

Thus Santorum's recent surge is partially a result of the credibility he got from a triple victory on February 7th. Without another shot in the arm, however, it is not clear how he can survive Super Tuesday. Romney has the resources to run large simultaneous media campaigns in several states, Santorum does not.

There are only two electoral contests before Super Tuesday: February 28 primaries in Michigan and Arizona. Most polls show Santorum ahead in Michigan. And, to date, most of the discussion has centered on whether Romney can hold the state where he grew up.

Arizona has been regarded as safe Romney territory. January polls all showed him with a substantial lead in the state. But these polls all predate the February national Santorum surge. Only a single Arizona poll has been taken since Santorum's triple victory -- and this one shows Santorum behind by only 7%. Significantly, the same firm that conducted this poll (ARG) had conducted a poll Jan 25-26; Romney had a 22% lead over Santorum in that poll. Same firm, same methodology, less than three weeks earlier. Fully two-thirds of Romney's lead has evaporated during these three weeks. (Even if the firm's methodology were flawed, it was consistent. Thus, the magnitude of the change in candidate support is hard to dispute).

Romney may be in a free-fall nationally. But for Santorum to capitalize on it, he needs to stay in the narrative. If he were to pull off a double victory on February 28, in both Arizona and Michigan, it might send out shock waves that could be felt throughout Super Tuesday. Maybe even enough to overcome the lack of advertising money. I doubt a split decision will do nearly enough for him.

But there a no signs of a Santorum campaign here. And he has but a single announced public event in the state, the day before next Wednesday's scheduled debate in Mesa. If his campaign is smart, it will change that and quickly. A double victory on the eve of Super Tuesday could be a game-changing story.