We now have a real fight on our hands for the 2012 campaign.
Do not underestimate Rick Santorum.
IMHO he has all the boxes checked for a viable Republican candidate -- let's look.
Not Mitt Romney: Check.
From a potential swing state: Check.
A 'true believer' faith-wise: Check.
Stable family history (as far as we know): Check.
Access to oodles of Super Pac money via Foster Freiss: Check.
Stable on issues, not flip-flopping: Check.
And lastly, and perhaps the most important -- Rick Santorum and the Google.
Yes, Dan Savage's re-naming of Rick Santorum was a good laugh when Santorum was a defeated intolerant senator, but now that he is a viable presidential candidate, things are different. This is a 'Red Badge of Courage -- or Savage' and it will help Santorum.
And here's why...
Like a Red Badge of Courage or 'Savage,' the right can go on the attack on this 'Santorum' Google issue.
You know how that Clint Eastwood Chrysler commercial is giving the right fits because it sounds like a pro-Obama ad, even though it wasn't at all coordinated?
The right-wing noise machine can play the same game.
They can point to Dan Savage's column and re-naming of Santorum and say, "This is how the elite, liberal, Obama-supporting left view the sanctity of marriage -- by tearing down a faithful family man who supports traditional views on marriage."
Rick Santorum has all the boxes checked and thanks to the Google joke about 'frothy' stuff, he has a lot of name recognition because he has been laughed about on many different outlets, Colbert, Daily Show, late night, Saturday Night Live, etc.
Remember Richard Nixon's statement, "You won't have this clown to kick around anymore." And how he seemed headed for political obscurity, only to become the president eight years later?
Hypothetically, how does Obama answer this question?
"Mr. President, do you agree with Dan Savage's characterization of Senator Santorum for his beliefs about marriage?"
It certainly is not as easy a slam dunk as questions on Romney or Gingrich.
And with Romney, the attacks were so easy; the hated Obamacare is based on Romneycare.
But now, the White House is on the defensive from a large voting block amid backlash over one of the provisions of his healthcare plan -- contraception in Catholic hospitals.
David Axelrod, a senior campaign adviser to President Barack Obama, said the administration had heard the Roman Catholic Church's concerns and never intended to "abridge anyone's religious freedom."
But he gave no sign that the administration would reverse course under intensifying pressure from church leaders and political heat from Republican presidential candidates.
Over the weekend, Catholic clergy across the country called for congregations to pressure Obama to back down.
"To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable," said Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement last month....
White House spokesman Jay Carney also sought to diffuse criticism from church leaders, telling reporters later on Tuesday the administration would work with religious organizations "to see if the implementation of the policy can be done in a way that allays some of those concerns."
With Romney, this was a non-issue as his Massachusetts plan went just as far if not farther in covering contraception.
But with Santorum, you have a bonafide conservative, not just solidly against contraception, but a person who has been on record for years defending abstinence, even going so far as to promote the uber conservative 'sex only for reproduction' viewpoint based on his faith in the Old Testament.
I can remember when Catholic bishops were telling people if they voted for John Kerry they would be denied communion based on Kerry's view on abortion.
Santorum already will have the Catholic faith block on his side, and the other religious right groups will be on board as well, just as they were in Iowa.
We were laughing as we considered thrice-divorced Newt Gingrich as the opponent for the election.
We were smirking as we watched Romney take two or three positions on every issue and distance himself from his own health care plan and try to laugh past tough questions from Fox interviewers.
I don't see that in Santorum. His statement today after moving into the lead with four contests to Mitt's three was "Conservatives are starting to get it."
Once in awhile, I switch from Ed Schulz to Rush Limbaugh (during commercials) and I heard a lady take Limbaugh to task for making light of Gingrich's three marriages.
She said, with firm conviction, "If it is choice on the ballot between Obama and Gingrich, I'll write in Santorum, because it means that much to me and other women."
Limbaugh was on the defensive like I had not heard before.
We laughed at Santorum before, but the longer he is winning, the more the narrative will be that 'Santorum is the new comeback kid' -- a nick name that helped Bill Clinton win his nomination.
I believe Barack Obama is headed for a second term, and he will campaign effectively, but I don't want any of us to laugh off Rick Santorum.
Talk me down, or better yet, talk strategy, because that's the smarter thing to do.
Never underestimate an opponent, especially one with a Red Badge of 'Savage.'
Follow Wade Norris on Twitter: www.twitter.com/wadenorris