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Can Santorum continue surge?

By Walt Braun

Mitt Romney, who invested heavily and lost in Iowa four years ago, has reason to be delighted. He won Tuesday night by eight votes — but he won, justifying an effort that was slow in the beginning but conspicuous in recent days.

Rick Santorum also has reason to delighted. He rose from obscurity and finished a close second, winning 24.54 percent of the Iowa Republican caucus vote to Mr. Romney’s 24.55. The socially conservative Pennsylvanian then issued an eloquent and personal speech that was part explanation for his rise, gratitude for his support and challenge to Mr. Romney.

Both now head to New Hampshire, where Mr. Romney has a decided geographical edge over the rest of the field and is well ahead in public opinion polls. Whether Mr. Santorum can pick up the conservative support that had gone to Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who announced her withdrawal this morning after finishing sixth, could well determine whether he remains viable. Also vital for Mr. Santorum’s prospects will be gaining financial support. He plans to spend $16,000 on cable television ads this week in New Hampshire; Mr. Romney will spend more than $260,000 in New Hampshire and a similar amount in South Carolina, which holds its primary Jan. 31.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul finished third, largely because of strong core support, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry finished fifth.

As for Newt Gingrich, he finished fourth but managed to capture a disproportionate share of media attention. That’s partly because he called Mr. Romney a “liar” on national TV and then waxed downright bitter in his post-caucus remarks.

Still smarting from the beating inflicted by negative ads paid for by superpacs in the Romney fold, Mr. Gingrich all but vowed payback. Except his negative ads won’t be negative because, he says, they’ll focus on truths about Mr. Romney. Mr. Gingrich almost seemed presidential when he declined to go negative in response to Mr. Romney’s smear campaign. Now that he’s made it a priority to hurt Mr. Romney, Mr. Gingrich might boost his appeal among the rhetorical bomb-throwers in the party but will likely diminish what stature he had.

Maybe Mr. Romney is on his way. He’s rich, has key endorsements and he’s careful. Maybe he’ll still slip up, say something stupid, alienate more conservatives. It could happen. Problem for his opponents is that that’s about what observers were saying before the Iowa caucuses.









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