This reminds me of that scene in the movie "The Perfect Storm," when the terrified meteorologist looks at the radar in panic and says, "It's happening!"
At the start of the month, Rick Santorum needed the following things to happen in order for him to be competitive in Iowa: Newt Gingrich needed to fade. Evangelicals needed to move toward his campaign. Then voters needed to see some tangible sign of momentum, in order to speed up the tortoise-like pace of his Iowa campaign.
The former Pennsylvania senator has now gotten at least a dose of all three ingredients. Gingrich's campaign has lost ground in every recent Iowa poll. Santorum won the endorsement of a number of high-profile Christian conservatives, including the head of The Family Leader. And today, Santorum placed third in an Iowa poll for the first time, running fairly close behind Mitt Romney and Ron Paul in a CNN/Time magazine survey.
The survey may not be all it's cracked up to be: it only tested Republican voters, even though non-Republicans can get access to the caucuses. But it also followed a PPP poll released Tuesday night showing that Santorum has the highest net favorability rating of any Republican candidate in Iowa.
Whatever else, Santorum seems all but certain to post the highest finish in a presidential primary or caucus of any former Philadelphia Inquirer columnist, which is quite an achievement. On one level, it's shocking that Santorum's rise in the polls has taken so long -- putting ideological critiques aside, he's clearly one of the sharper tools in the GOP's rusted 2012 shed, and he's targeted his appeal to the same evangelicals who gave the Hawkeye State to Mike Huckabee in 2008.
I think his biggest problem, politically, is that he talks like someone who's spent most of his adult life as a Washington insider, circa 1990s, and doesn't know how to "bring tha crazy" the way that the talk radio/Tea Party faction of the party likes it. Yes, a man who spoke in a political interview about "man-on-dog sex" isn't crazy enough for the modern Republican Party. Ponder that. And, at the end of a day, Santorum is a man who wears out his welcome -- his 59 percent rejection by Pennsylvania voters in 2006 was the highest I've ever seen for an incumbent senator not facing corruption charges.
Santorum's surge means people may finally look at his actual record. It won't be pretty. The real Senator Rick Santorum was a shameless pimp for Big Pharma who battled to hold back the working class Americans at companies like Wal-Mart and Outback and who founded a charity which was exposed (by Your Blogger) as not especially charitable. Maybe that kind of record is "evangelical," but not in any sense that I'm familiar with.