Rick Santorum's Iowa surge: A win for Romney?

Just days before the critical Hawkeye State caucuses, Santorum rallies into third place, knocking key Romney rival Newt Gingrich all the way to fourth

Rick Santorum
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Is Rick Santorum finally a serious contender? The former Pennsylvania senator has surged into third place in the final stretch before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, according to a new CNN/TIME/ORC International poll — a remarkable development considering that the devout Catholic has been polling at or near dead last for much of the campaign. But now, Santorum, who has spent more time in Iowa than any other candidate, is seeing his investment pay off. His poll numbers have tripled since the start of December, and the staunch social conservative is now in third place, at 16 percent. Mitt Romney leads with 25 percent, followed by Ron Paul — who topped PPP's poll this week — with 22 percent. Newt Gingrich has plummeted to fourth place, at 14 percent (a shadow of the 33 percent Newt had in the last CNN poll). Who benefits the most from this new order in Iowa?

This is a big win for Santorum: Everything is lining up for Santorum, says Alexander Burns at Politico. Gingrich is fading, Santorum is bagging endorsements from several high-profile Christian conservatives, and now he's seeing some "tangible sign of momentum" in the polls. Not only did he finish third in the CNN poll, but a PPP survey revealed that Santorum boasts the highest net favorability rating of any candidate in Iowa. "Those are the kind of optics a cash-strapped candidate can't buy," and suggest that Santorum is poised to absorb disillusioned supporters of Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, and possibly become a real threat in the race.

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