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After Iowa, what's next for Rick Santorum? 4 theories
Santorum catapulted from the back of the GOP pack into a first-place tie in Iowa. But can he turn his caucus success into a national surge?
 
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) came up a mere eight votes shy of beating Mitt Romney in Iowa, but he faces a tougher battle in next week's New Hampshire primary, where he's polling at just 3 percent.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) came up a mere eight votes shy of beating Mitt Romney in Iowa, but he faces a tougher battle in next week's New Hampshire primary, where he's polling at just 3 percent.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

"Rick Santorum just shocked the political world," rocketing from the bottom of the GOP presidential field to a virtual tie in the Iowa caucuses, says James Hohmann at Politico, falling just 8 votes short of winning. "But now what?" The former Pennsylvania senator succeeded in Iowa with a smart, frugal, shoe-leather-pounding campaign that took the religious social conservative to all 99 counties in the evangelical-heavy Hawkeye State. But there are 49 more state contests ahead, starting with the much-less-simpatico New Hampshire primary next Tuesday. What lies ahead for Santorum? Here, four theories:

1. Santorum will give Romney a run for his money
Santorum's "miraculous showing in Iowa" doesn't mean he'll coast to the GOP nomination, but it does make him the "candidate best positioned — uniquely positioned, I would argue — to beat" Mitt Romney, says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. With his "blue-collar appeal and ability to weave social issues and his personal stories into a conservative economic agenda," Santorum clearly "has an opening to make a run for the nomination." If Santorum can "coalesce the 75 percent of Republican primary voters who want someone other than Romney to be the nominee, things could get interesting down the stretch," says John Avlon at The Daily Beast.

2. He'll wither under intense scrutiny and be revealed as "Romney-lite"
Sure, "Santorum is now the only Flavor of the Week candidate to actually win anything, which makes him a genuine threat to Romney, at least for the moment," says John Dickerson at Slate. But "the campaign is going to get uglier," as Ron Paul and Co. fillet Santorum "to recover from their weak Iowa showings." The Santorum surge will also bring "withering questions and scrutiny" from the press and voters, says Ed Rogers at The Washington Post. The Pennsylvanian's socially conservative views will turn off independents. And "if you think Mitt Romney is too moderate, wait until you hear about former Sen. Santorum's willingness to get along and go along while he was in Washington." In many ways, "he is Romney-lite. Bet on the real thing."

3. Santorum's fate will be decided in South Carolina
Santorum operatives are working feverishly to prevent Tuesday's Iowa stunner from being "the high-water mark of their campaign," but a "reality check is coming — fast," says Politico's Hohmann. A poll of New Hampshire voters released Monday pegged Santorum at 3 percent, and Romney has long enjoyed a huge lead in the Granite State. Santorum will "find a much more receptive audience in South Carolina's first-in-the-South primary" on Jan. 21. Santorum could "pull out a win" there, says The Daily Beast's Avlon. "The Palmetto State is where the war for the nomination will be waged, conservatives' last line of defense against Romney's establishment horde," says Adam Sorenson at TIME. And Santorum may well be the last conservative standing by then.

4. He will change the focus of the GOP race
Regardless of how Santorum fares in upcoming contests, "the man deserves credit for focusing on one resonant message that has been virtually ignored by other candidates," says The Daily Beast's Avlon. While Paul focuses on monetary policy and Romney jabs at President Obama, Santorum alone talks about "the struggling middle class and forgotten blue-collar workers, speaking to their concerns and proposing plans like an elimination of the corporate income tax on manufacturing companies." But that may wind up hurting him with Republican voters, say Greg Giroux and Heidi Przybyla at Bloomberg. Santorum's rivals are already teeing up attacks on the "votes he cast to benefit organized labor, including minimum-wage increases and preserving government wage-setting regulations."

 

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