02/20/2012 07:40 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Could Santorum Actually Beat Romney?

Jacob is a teen participant in the Junior State of America (JSA), a student-run political organization for high school students.

The man with the Google problem has done it again, as Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri have named Rick Santorum the winner of their primary elections. Santorum's miraculous success has catapulted him back into the presidential race and put a pall over Mitt Romney's campaign. Romney, having polled favorably and expecting an easy win, is no doubt surprised at the upset, as were most of the people following the election. Santorum has now won more states than Romney, and Romney can no longer ignore the fact that he will have to fight much harder for the national nomination than he originally thought.

Santorum's success and Romney's failure in the recent primaries are mainly due to their relative appeal to more strictly conservative Republicans. Many conservative voters do not view Romney as a "real" conservative, pointing to his moderate views on many issues and his previous political achievements (including the Massachusetts healthcare system) as signs that he is only pandering to the right to get the nomination. In these voters' eyes, Santorum hews much closer to being an honest candidate and a true conservative. This is a boon during the primaries, which trend toward favoring a candidate heavily on one side of the aisle or the other, but could hurt Santorum during a national election, where more moderate voters turn out, and centrist candidates fare better.

But for now, Santorum is focused on the primaries. For the first time in the race, Romney's eventual triumph is no longer assured -- if Santorum continues his strategy of strenuously campaigning for the hardcore conservative vote, he has a real chance of winning the nomination. Still, it will be an uphill fight, as Romney continues to have more funding and widespread appeal. Even Santorum's recent success could be less outstanding than it seems: Missouri's primary was merely for show, and Santorum might not win again when its delegates are actually awarded in the March caucus.

Should Santorum seemingly pull off the impossible and beat Romney, he will have an even harder fight winning the national election. He will have clinched the hardcore conservative vote, but he will have a hard time gaining the moderate support he will need in order to win the presidency. Additionally, his staid, traditional, conservative image has little appeal for younger voters. Barack Obama's success in the last election came in large part from his ability to inspire young liberals to come out and vote, a feat that Santorum will find difficult to repeat with young conservatives. Many would-be young voters are disillusioned with traditional politics, and as a result tend not to vote. In order to pull in young voters, Santorum would need to present an image that represented a break with the current deadlock in Washington. He need not change his actual policies much, but his current political image will do little to lessen the apathy among young voters.

Overall, while his recent success has pulled his campaign back from the brink, Santorum still stands on shaky ground. He will have to put in a tremendous amount of effort to continue succeeding in the primary, especially as Romney buckles down and starts seriously trying to stop him. As the situation stands now, though, Santorum has presented the first credible threat to Romney's campaign. Whether or not he succeeds in the end, the primaries have just gotten a lot more interesting.