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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Finally, Rick Santorum is getting his surge.

The former Pennsylvania senator has been stuck at the bottom of the polls since he launched his presidential campaign, but now it looks like months of aggressively courting Iowa power-brokers and Republican base voters is paying dividends. Recent state surveys indicate that the conservative stalwart — he has touted his consistent willingness to confront the twin titanic threats of Iran and gay marriage — is rapidly gaining support, just days before the caucuses that will play an outsized role in determining the 2012 Republican presidential nominee.

Public Policy Polling (PPP), the research firm that has been regularly conducting tracking polls of likely caucus-goers, finds Santorum’s support climbing to double-digits. And fresh Time magazine/CNN data released Wednesday pegged Santorum at 16 percent, on the cusp of the top tier for the first time.

It’s a bit of well-deserved good news for a candidate who has worked harder than any other on the ground in Iowa.

“Polls change; convictions don’t,” Santorum said when asked about his upswing by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “A lot of people are moving toward my position, trying to move toward the conservative primary.”

Santorum openly admits he lacks political sex appeal — but maintains he’s the serious candidate Republicans will turn to after they’ve had their kicks.

“I always tell the story about girls coming into the dance hall, walking past us and taking a turn with some other better-looking guys, and then at the end of the evening there’s old steady Eddie, who’s not flashy, but he’s the guy you know you want to take home to Mom and Dad,” he explained to The New York Times, referring to a high school anecdote he frequently uses on the campaign trail to burnish his image as a scrappy underdog.

But can Santorum rise fast enough for a January surprise? He’ll need Mitt Romney’s last-minute sprint to the finish line to fall short, and also for Republicans to reject Ron Paul and his unorthodox flavor of libertarian, Tea Party-infused conservatism.

Still, in a race that has seen the weird get weirder still, and in a state where Republicans have been known to take their caucus instructions from martial arts movie and “Bowflex” infomercial star Chuck Norris, crazier things have happened.

“Given his personal popularity, it’s worth keeping an eye on Santorum in the final week,” said Dean Debnam, president of PPP.

Their poll shows that Santorum’s personal favorability numbers are the highest of any candidate, and that he is the top “second choice” of Republican caucus-goers. His lack of gaffes and consistent attention to retail politics may help him to sweep up evangelical voters that have vacillated over time from Michele Bachmann to Rick Perry to Herman Cain to Newt Gingrich to (most recently) Ron Paul.

“Rick Santorum could be a real surprise,” former Dallas County GOP Chairman Rob Taylor told the Associated Press.

He performed well in the debates and has visited each of Iowa’s 99 counties, making a total of over 300 campaign stops and earning much goodwill from conservative activists in the process. And he’s been picking up the endorsement of some key Mike Huckabee backers from 2008 like Christian leader Bob Vander Plaats and rising conservative movement stars like Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz.

If the surge is real, the question becomes one of whether Santorum has the campaign organization to capitalize — whether he’s able to ride the momentum out of Iowa into success down the road in key primary states, as Huckabee failed to do after his victory last time around.

In the meantime, get ready for a photo finish as the results begin trickling in next Tuesday night.

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Copyright 2011 The National Memo