Fresh Meat!

 The past few days my wife and I have been watching episodes of Walking Dead. I have simultaneously kept a close eye on the herds of zombies roaming the Iowa countryside. Those ‘walkers’ are lurching after Rick Santorum now, mostly because he’s the one who still smells like fresh meat.

Santorum was the beneficiary of a much-hyped CNN/Time poll last week, which suggested that he was emerging from the pack of “right-of-Romney” models I described in a post at the time. Other, arguably more reliable polls, didn’t show that. But, hungry zombies working on pure brain-stem instinct gotta give chase. The “Santorum Surge” was the political – nay, the news of the day, and drove a huge round of media attention on him.

Yesterday’s much-hyped Des Moines Register poll, at close inspection, appears to pretty much confirm that by late in the week, Santorum was where CNN/Time said he was at the beginning of the week, and rising fast into the weekend.

In other words, the overall evidence seems to suggest that most of Santorum’s surge came after, and was caused by, the CNN/Time poll.

But this does not mean that Santorum’s surge is entirely random and phony. As I described recently, you’ve got a lot of Republican voters still shopping for a candidate, and the CNN/Time poll was like a salesperson bringing in a model they hadn’t yet considered.

Santorum is capable of getting this late surge precisely because he hasn’t been considered worthy of careful, potentially disqualifying consideration. Romney and his allies don’t consider Santorum viable in the long run, so they have had no interest in attacking him. The other non-Romney campaigns haven’t previously considered Santorum a threat, so they haven’t bothered to attack him. The media hasn’t previously had any reason to pay attention to Santorum, and thus hasn’t given him a high-profile vetting.

Most likely, they were all correct, and Santorum never was worth paying attention to, and will fade away quickly. But perhaps he’ll prove them wrong.

Meanwhile, if the top three in Iowa are in fact Romney, Santorum, and Paul, in any order, that’s heaven-sent for Romney – as I wrote in early 2011, Romney’s best scenario is the least establishment-acceptable candidates finishing high in Iowa.

Still, you could raise the following argument: the right-of-Romney majority split too much in Iowa – but could coalesce by South Carolina. And if it does, the beneficiary – maybe Santorum, but maybe Gingrich or Perry – wins SC, knocks out the rest of the right-of-Romney candidates, wins Florida, and then we get the ‘long siege’ nomination battle.

That’s certainly still possible. And, it’s why you could see candidates like Perry, Gingrich, and Bachmann stay in, even if they do poorly in Iowa. (Especially if they have enough rich friends to finance their Super PACs.)

Of course, if they all stay in, then it’s harder for any one of them to coalesce those votes. The zombies will have to just keep chasing one and then another, until there's only one left -- or until they decide Romney's brains are worth eating. Or whatever the metaphor is.


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