For months, right-wing Republicans have searched for a lasting”alternative” to frontrunner Mitt Romney.
Flash-in-the-pan pretenders came and went: Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, et. al. For a while it looked like former speaker of the house Newt Gingrich would seize the mantle but that prospect scared the hell out of most Republicans and he has faded, once again, into political obscurity.
Now the part of the elephant appears to have a new — perhaps lasting — alternative: Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, an extreme right-winger that scares even some of the party’s most fervent conservatives.
In most national polls, Santorum is the new frontrunner. His positive ratings now reach as high as 67 percent among Republicans — ahead of Romney.
Will it last? Some GOP strategists tell Capitol Hill Blue it could, more so from weariness from voters who want somebody — anybody — but Romney.
“There is a weariness in the ranks,” says GOP strategist Ron Alderman. “What you see out there is a feeling that ‘hey, we could do a lot worse than Santorum.’”
Santroum’s surge may also stem from President Barack Obama’s own surge in popularity with voters. The newest polls show Obama beating any of the four remaining GOP contenders in head-to-head match ups and the President’s job approval hitting 50 percent for the first time in three years.
“The four remaining Republican candidates may be running for the right to be a sacrificial lamb to Obama,” Alderman says.
Santorum’s fundraising has surged since he three-primary win last week but his campaign cash still still lags far behind Romney, who is set to spend at least $1.2 million in TV ads in the upcoming Michigan primary where polls show Santorum leading.
But while a majority of Republicans now appear to prefer Santorum over Romney, that support is weak compared to the 76 percent level of support eventual GOP nominee John McCain enjoyed at the same point in 2008.
With a volatile electorate, anything can — and probably will — happen between now and the GOP convention this summer and the election in November.
But — at the moment at least — Republicans appear to finally have a viable alternative to Mitt Romney.
Whether or not they can live with that alternative is still unknown.