Rick Santorum’s bump comes as he settles into the GOP race

Until recently, I haven’t taken Rick Santorum seriously as a candidate.

Coming into the race, I knew him mostly by his extremist views on homosexuality (it’s one thing to be anti-gay marriage, it’s quite another to equate homosexuality with beastiality).

Watching him in the debates, he was rigid and awkward, moving as he had no idea what his body was doing (Think Will Ferrell as Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights during his first interview where he can’t figure out what to do with his hands).

His economic policies have been flawed to say the least, he advocates emphasizing certain sectors of the economy for subsidies, the exact kind of winner-picking good conservatives ought to oppose.

And although he has strong support among conservatives for his social views, Santorum’s record is in big-government Republicanism.

In short, he’s George W. Bush 2.0.

But you know what? That might be enough to win.

People didn’t agree with everything the W had to say, but they liked him as a guy. He was like Bill Clinton with a moral center. You could have a beer with him and you felt like he’d get where you were coming from.

A media talk show host put it best yesterday when she said something to the effect of “I don’t agree with him on anything, but I like him as a guy.”

George W. Bush won an election by being a social conservative and getting out what we call the “values voters.”

I’ll be the first to tell you that someone’s social views should be one of the lowest items on the totem pole of importance when we talk about the qualification of a candidate.

But for better or worse, plenty of people vote based on a single issue and when they do, it’s usually a social one.

The reason I never thought Santorum could win was because he didn’t seem to have the political savvy to sway independents.

You could ameliorate the concerns of independents as to your social conservatism by playing the libertarian card.

It’s exactly what I suggested the Republican field do heading into the race.

You say, “Look, I believe this is wrong, but you have a right to believe anything you want and the government shouldn’t tell you what to do.”

That’s exactly what Rick Santorum did on Piers Morgan recently.

Morgan cut to break with a wildly inflammatory teaser (“Does Rick Santorum like women?”) and then asked Santorum about contraception.

Santorum answered smoothly and calmly that he was a Catholic and supported his church in the notion that contraception for anyone was wrong.

He further explained that he did believe contraception should be available to people who do not share his beliefs because the government didn’t have a right to regulate such things.

Santorum emphasized the strength of his answer by pointing to his record as a Congressman, saying he’d always been in favor of making contraception available and would oppose any law limiting its availability.

This is a new Rick Santorum, one we hadn’t seen a few months ago when this race began. He seems to have settled into the race, understanding exactly what kind of candidate he is and he’s running the campaign he wants to run.

It’s my feeling that Republicans have turned out in such low numbers to primaries and caucuses because they don’t want to pick from this motley crew. On the other hand, when November rolls around, they will strongly support the Republican nominee.

I think when it comes to who can create the most fervent support, it’s possible that with a little more seasoning Santorum could be that guy.

It’s equally possible that this latest challenge to Mitt Romney will only further harden Romney has a candidate, as he fends off yet another challenge to his position as front-runner.

Either way, it appears there will be strong support for whomever the candidate is. For the first time since this race began, I’m beginning to  believe Rick Santorum truly does have a chance.

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