In a Republican primary season of constant ups and downs, conservative former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has justifiably charged to a commanding lead in Tennessee and is leading or tied with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in nationwide polls.
Santorum's strength in the Volunteer State is highlighted by a Vanderbilt University poll of more than 1,500 registered voters. Santorum, who got an enthusiastic reception during a visit to Chattanooga on Saturday, had the support of 33 percent of the respondents. Finishing far back were Romney at 17 percent, Texas Congressman Ron Paul at 13 percent and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 10 percent. About a fourth of respondents expressed no preference, though, so a Tennessee victory for Santorum is not certain.
Still, he appears to be in the driver's seat here, and his Chattanooga stop may also have been intended to get the attention of voters in nearby, conservative North Georgia. Gingrich leads in Georgia heading toward Super Tuesday, the March 6 primaries and caucuses in Georgia, Tennessee and eight other states.
But Georgia offers the most delegates of any of the states where voting will take place on Super Tuesday, and Santorum may yet prevail there if he is seen as the conservative with a better shot than Gingrich at wresting the nomination away from the middle-of-the-road Romney.
So far, Santorum and Romney have won four states each, compared with one for Gingrich and none for Paul. Remarkably, Santorum is in a dead heat with Romney in today's primary in Michigan, where Romney was born and raised and where his father was once governor. Some observers believe Romney's chances are in great peril if he cannot pull out a win today in Michigan.
Whether or not that is true, we urge voters in Tennessee and Georgia to turn out in high numbers for Santorum next Tuesday, to put him on the path to challenging President Barack Obama in November. He lays out a clearer, more consistent case than Gingrich or Romney against ObamaCare. He believes in a strong national defense. He is pro-life. And he understands the danger posed by out-of-control federal spending.
Those sound characteristics make him a wise choice for Tennesseans and Georgians alike.