It’s all about timing. Santorum’s current surge is based on a variety of things breaking in his favor. First, there are now only 3 candidates remaining with a realistic shot at winning the nomination: Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich. Two of those candidates, Gingrich and Romney, have been beating the living hell out of each other via campaign ads/speeches. That allows Santorum to appear above the fray in comparison and since he’s not the target of negative ads, he’s more likely to come out with a favorable impression. In addition, most of the contests in late January and early February were in smaller and more conservative states, where Santorum could compete without having the vast resources of Romney. I also think the anti-Romney voters finally decided they needed to organize behind one candidate – and they picked Santorum. Based on these factors, it’s not shocking at all that Santorum has experienced this surge.
What remains to be seen is can he sustain this success as the primary season moves along to the bigger states? I think he can. He now has momentum from winning Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado. Those states count for diddly squat in terms of delegates, but they give him a perception of being a viable candidate. There are fewer alternatives that can steal his thunder (he only needs to worry about Gingrich now as the conservative alternative, whereas the prior “hot” candidates were competing with the entire field to maintain momentum). This translates into money being poured into his campaign; money that he will badly need to compete with Romney on Super Tuesday and beyond. This is not about election rigging, this is about taking advantage of the political map.