Friday, January 20, 2012

Will Santorum Drop After South Carolina?

Right now, Rick Santorum is running fourth in South Carolina as seen by Nate Silver's projection system. It certainly wouldn't be surprising to see a late surge, although I don't see any particular reason to expect one. Would a fourth place finish knock him out? What about third?

In some ways, Santorum has done well since New Hampshire. He's picked up some social conservative endorsements, and had the fun of being declared the official winner of Iowa yesterday, for whatever that's worth. Mitt Romney has had some rough times over the last couple of weeks and may well lose tomorrow. And while Newt Gingrich has very much had an up week, it's pretty limited: he still shows all the vulnerabilities that destroyed his last two surges.

On the other hand...if he finishes dead last in South Carolina after also getting clobbered in New Hampshire, are any potential donors going to be willing to invest in the slim chances that he finds some way to revive his Iowa momentum? It seems unlikely. The problem from Santorum's point of view -- and the reason that winnowing works so efficiently -- is that it very much becomes a self-fulfilling logic, in which Santorum has no chance in Florida because no one thinks he has a chance in Florida and so Santorum is left without anyone willing to supply the resources it would take to win in Florida. Which is why, by the way, speculation about deadlocked conventions is so silly; once we're down to two candidates plus Ron Paul, you then need a virtual tie between the top two to get to deadlock.

Would a solid third be enough to break that logic? Probably not. Although as we get closer to the marginal cases, what matter is how much of a solid constituency Santorum has (not much of a base, as far as I can see) and also just how much Republicans who control resources dislike each of the other three candidates (ah, there's his opportunity).

So the better he does, and the more the contest overall seems up in the air, the better the chances that he'll stick through Florida. But he almost certainly has to beat his current poll numbers, and probably has to beat them solidly.

3 comments:

  1. Santorum should stick around regardless.

    Tim Pawlenty made the mistake of dropping out after the Iowa straw poll. Santorum should not make the same mistake.

    Gingrich will implode, it is just a matter of time. If there is not a credible conservative voice hanging around to pick up the pieces, Romney will waltz to the nomination. Gingrich is far more likely to leave the race before Rick.

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  2. For the anti-Romney dead-enders, Santorum is surely a more auspicious choice than Gingrich, if only marginally so. But then if Republicans this cycle were pragmatic and rational in that way, Romney would have sewn up the nomination the moment it became clear that Rick Perry was not up to the job.

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  3. This cycle seems a bit notable for being more debate-driven than any before it.. so Santorum may as well stick around the extra week or two to see what opportunities pop up between now and then. Most likely 4th in SC sends his numbers further down in Florida, a la Perry fading away.

    OTOH, Romney and Co. bringing up disclosure issues over Newt getting tossed out as speaker? It's possible that could catch on, particularly if conservative outlets help his campaign push the line of attack. Then Santorum might again become "the last train leaving" for everyone other than the non-establishment Republicans backing Romney, or non-libertarian/Republicans backing Ron Paul.

    In any case, it's hard to see how anyone beats Romney's establishment backing, Romney's war chest, and the resources Romney's friends can bring to bear in the form of SuperPACs.

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