It is now less than one month until March 6, when Georgia and nine other states conduct their Republican presidential preference primaries. Thus far, the only constant in the Republican primary is that there is no constant. There have been a multitude of frontrunners and the states that have conducted primaries and caucuses so far have been split between Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum.
In Georgia, Newt Gingrich has held a commanding lead for the past several months. The most recent poll by Survey USA was conducted February 1-2 and showed Gingrich leading Mitt Romney by 45-32 percent. This was similar to a December poll by Mason Dixon that showed Gingrich leading Romney by 43-21 percent. A series of Insider Advantage polls from the summer shows Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann, both now withdrawn from the race, leading last summer and fall.
Although the most recent two polls show Romney rising by 11 points, the real story may be Rick Santorum. As late as December, Santorum garnered less than two percent in the Insider Advantage poll and one percent in the Mason Dixon poll.
Santorum eked out a surprise victory in Iowa on January 3, even though his victory wasn’t known until two weeks later. In the meantime, he placed a distant third in South Carolina and Florida. It was at this point that the Survey USA poll was taken that showed Santorum had jumped to nine percent. Since then, Santorum pulled a hat trick, winning all three of this week’s primaries in the states of Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado.
In the weeks remaining until Super Tuesday, there are only four states holding primaries or caucuses. Arizona and Michigan hold primaries on February 28 while Maine caucuses on February 11 and Washington on March 3.
It remains to be seen whether Santorum’s victories this week will increase his popularity in Georgia and the other Super Tuesday states. If so, he may be unable to keep up his momentum in the weeks until Super Tuesday with few elections and debates.
As Newt Gingrich’s campaign sags under the weight of his personal baggage and high unfavorability ratings, it is likely that he will not receive anywhere near the 45 percent of the vote that he received in the most recent poll. It is most likely that Santorum will be the beneficiary of disaffected Gingrich supporters as the new alternative to Romney.
At this point, factoring in the recent events, the Georgia primary is too close to call, with Romney at 32 percent and Gingrich and Santorum splitting another 60 percent, Romney looks to be the favorite. Ron Paul is unlikely to go much higher than 10 percent. The big question is whether Santorum’s rise will cause Romney as well as Gingrich voters to defect.
Originally published on Examiner.com: