The Game Truly Is On Now

“Game on” was how Rick Santorum described the status of the Republican presidential primary race the night he won Iowa [even though he didn’t know he had won it for another week]. Well, if that win was a signal that the game was on, last night served as an indication this is a serious game for sure. Polls had hinted he might take Missouri, eke out a slight win in Minnesota, and could be encouraged by a strong second-place finish in Colorado. After the votes were counted, he had swamped Romney in Missouri, scored a solid victory in Minnesota, and stunned all pundits by taking Colorado by five points.

Santorum had a perfect three-for-three evening.

Despite the expected caveats—Missouri was just a “beauty contest,” none of those states actually awarded delegates at this point, turnout wasn’t that high—the results have changed the trajectory of this “game.”

What are we witnessing? First, Romney has never nailed down the conservative vote, and it showed in a big way. Second, Gingrich may have already peaked and is now beginning a fade because conservative voters are switching allegiances; when they compare Gingrich with Santorum, they are liking Santorum better. Third, this obviously is no longer a two-man race. Fourth, lots of money and organization may not trump issues after all. And how about this possibility: should Gingrich now leave the race so he won’t drain support from Santorum? How’s that for turnabout?

I’ve always despised the mantra that whoever wins early is the presumptive nominee. I recall another primary battle back in 1976, when an upstart challenger named Ronald Reagan took on the incumbent president Gerald Ford. Reagan lost one primary after another, and the experts were saying he should pull out. Then the tides shifted, and he began winning them all. The race was so close it wasn’t finally settled until the Republican convention that year. Yes, Reagan fell short, but I doubt that anyone today seriously thinks anymore that Ford was the better candidate. So I say, let the race continue.

Santorum is correct when he says that Romney cannot be the Republican spokesman to critique Obamacare, given his background and ongoing defense of Romneycare. Santorum also is someone who can put those midwestern states in the Republican column in November. I’m also convinced he will be the best person to tackle the looming Iranian threat.

Romney last night in his speech said, “This is a time for real change in Washington—fundamental, bold, dramatic change.” I couldn’t agree more. But when has Romney ever been the candidate espousing fundamental, bold, or dramatic change? He’s the mushy middle who will superintend the status quo. I can’t imagine him doing anything bold. He’s always been the “go along to get along” guy. Santorum, on the other hand, has been rock solid on issues dear to my vote—sanctity of life, significance of family, and Biblical morality as the cornerstone of policy.

Santorum has passed one test. Now, can he do the same in Arizona and Michigan at the end of this month? Michigan is another of Romney’s “home” states—he seems to have a number of those. Yet Santorum’s message of reviving manufacturing could play well there. Arizona is quite conservative, and the ongoing battle that state has with Obama over illegal immigration may also be fertile ground for him.

I think he was correct to say “game on” in Iowa. That terminology is even more appropriate now.