Religion pushes Santorum to the top

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Santorum-Reed.jpgThat’s contrary to one of Politico’s Iowa take-aways, but it’s gospel. Evangelicals ended up constituting 57 percent of the GOP caucus vote, just three points less than in 2008; and 32 percent of them went for Santorum. The former Penn. senator came up a smidgen short because he couldn’t match Mike Huckabee’s 46 percent (not for lack of trying); but for a conservative Catholic running against two strenuous evangelical candidates (Bachmann and Perry) and an idiosyncratic one (Paul), that’s an impressive performance–really, an historic one. Somewhere, Al Smith and Jack Kennedy are smiling.

As for Romney, even as he basks in a victory that wasn’t supposed to be his, he’s got reason to be anxious. In total votes and percentage, he actually did slightly worse in the caucuses than in 2008, when he finished second. More importantly, his evangelical support dropped by nearly a third, from 19 percent to 14 percent. Put that together with the fact that a strong plurality (29 percent) of Tea Partiers also supported Santorum (Paul and Romney tied for second at 19 percent), and it means there’s trouble on the right, including anti-Mormon trouble. If, over the next two weeks, Santorum can put together enough in the way of cash, organization, and pastors, he can give Romney a run for his money. That’s a big if, but the Huckabee precedent proves it can be done. (Of course, I thought Pat Robertson was going somewhere when he finished second in the Iowa caucuses in 1988.)