Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a town hall meeting at the Fort Dodge GOP Headquarters, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2011, in Fort Dodge, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) (AP)

The Rick Santorum surge is here

A new poll has him running third in Iowa and peaking at just the right time


Steve Kornacki
December 29, 2011 4:32AM (UTC)

Two new Iowa polls have been released in the past 24 hours, and both show Rick Santorum -- who for almost all of 2011 had been the only Republican candidate never to experience a meaningful surge in any poll -- moving into double digits.

The new CNN/Time numbers, which came out late Wednesday afternoon, are the most dramatic, with Santorum claiming third place with 16 percent, more than triple his total from the last CNN/Time poll three weeks ago. That puts him just 9 points behind Mitt Romney and 6 in back of Ron Paul -- and suggests that religious conservatives in Iowa could be rallying around Santorum in the home stretch.

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The other new survey, from Public Policy Polling, has Santorum at 10 percent, essentially tied for fourth place with Michele Bachmann (11 percent) and Rick Perry (10 percent). Like Santorum, Perry and Bachmann are playing hard for the evangelical vote, which accounted for 60 percent of the Iowa GOP caucus electorate in ’08. The key question for Santorum is whether he can break away from Perry and Bachmann between now and next Tuesday and emerge as the consensus choice of the Christian right -- or if all three of them will end up bunched together, far behind Romney and Paul.

It should be noted that the CNN/Time poll surveyed registered Republicans only, which may have skewed the results, since it's easy (and common) for non-Republicans to show up and register at the caucuses. Among non-Republicans who are likely to participate, PPP's survey shows Paul the clear leader, meaning that the CNN/Time result might be understating the Texan's support and overstating Santorum's.

Still, this makes three polls in the last week that have Santorum reaching double digits in Iowa. He now figures to enjoy a level of media attention that's eluded him all year, making it possible that his numbers will grow further in the next few days. In other words, he may be peaking at just the right time.

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Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki is an MSNBC host and political correspondent. Previously, he hosted “Up with Steve Kornacki” on Saturday and Sunday 8-10 a.m. ET and was a co-host on MSNBC’s ensemble show “The Cycle.” He has written for the New York Observer, covered Congress for Roll Call, and was the politics editor for Salon. His book, which focuses on the political history of the 1990s, is due out in 2017.

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