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February 21st, 2012
11:54 AM ET

Analyst: In rise of Santorum, no silver lining for Mitt Romney

A new Gallup poll puts Rick Santorum ahead of Mitt Romney nationally by more than ten percentage points. In this back-and-forth campaign that's sent several candidates into the spotlight as frontrunners, the enduring Romney campaign has managed to hold on to its inevitability argument. In a Gallup daily tracking poll, all Americans were asked which candidate–Santorum or Romney–has the best chance of defeating President Obama. 54 percent said Romney, compared to 29 percent for Santorum.

Already there are signs Romney's wavering support in his home state of Michigan–bolstered by heavy advertising–is seeing results. As Andrew Malcolm writes in Investor's Business Daily, "just in time for tomorrow's final debate before Super Tuesday, Mitt Romney is surging in Michigan, his home state where he'd been badly trailing Rick Santorum for the Republican primary one week from today."

Does that mean Romney and his supporters will inevitably weather the Santorum surge and win the nomination? Analyst Reihan Salam says no. On CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront Monday night, "I think there is no good news for Mitt Romney in all of this. He's eroding in Arizona, he's eroding in all these places that were supposed to be his firewalls."

Political strategist John Avlon says Romney can find the silver lining in the setbacks by playing to the strength captured in the Gallup poll: electability. "Say you know what, I am the most electable candidate. I can bring independents into the tent if you give me the chance. Instead, he's calling Rick Santorum a RINO (Republican in Name Only) and that doesn't even pass the laugh test.

NPR's Ken Rudin says for Romney, the campaign may have taken an exit off the expressway to a convention coronation, but it's "not exactly apocalyptic." That point could come soon, however:

Back to Michigan. If Romney can't win there, a primary he easily carried in 2008 and where he was born and raised and where his father served as governor throughout most of the 1960s (and where he had a two-to-one lead in the polls just a month ago), then what's the argument for his nomination? What good are the polls that show him running the strongest against President Obama in the fall if he still can't get the party to fall in line behind him? A Romney defeat will, once again, inevitably reignite the chorus calling for new candidates (Mitch Daniels! Chris Christie! Jeb Bush!) to get in the race, or predictions of a brokered convention.

More on the campaign on Erin Burnett OutFront tonight at 7 p.m. ET; and don't miss the crucial final debate before the Super Tuesday voting begins–the debate airs on CNN Wednesday night starting at 8 p.m. ET, with extensive pre-debate coverage at 7.


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