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Santorum Victory Dependent On Blue-Collar Voters

GOP Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum meets with supporters at the Daily Grind coffee shop in Sioux City, Iowa. (Ralf-Finn Hestoft)

January 2, 2012

In looking at whether Rick Santorum has a shot at winning the Iowa caucuses tomorrow night, pay close attention to the results coming from Davenport and Dubuque - the working-class cities in eastern Iowa that have as much in common with the blue-collar Rust Belt than the agricultural farmland.

No, they're not filled with the evangelical voters that make up the base of Santorum's support.  But they are filled with working-class voters with a populist bent, and are a critical component of a Santorum coalition - if he hopes to go mano-a-mano with Mitt Romney.

These two cities are not dominated by evangelicals, and were among the few regions that resisted Mike Huckabee in the 2008 caucuses, backing Romney instead.  Romney beat Huckabee in Scott County (Davenport), 31-22% four years ago.  In Dubuque County, Huckabee finished a distant third with 15 percent, trailing Romney (42 percent) and John McCain (19 percent).

One way for Santorum to win the caucuses is if he absolutely dominates among evangelicals, counting on former Perry and Bachmann supporters to rally to his side in the campaign's closing hours.  That's looking difficult to pull off: Santorum may win a solid plurality of evangelical voters, but Perry and (to a lesser extent) Bachmann still have their core supporters.  Even with his late surge, Santorum is no Huckabee when it comes to charisma and raw campaign skill.

But Santorum could combine his appeal with evangelicals with a stronger-than-expected showing in the blue-collar cities, peeling off some of Romney's support with an economic message focused on revitalizing manufacturing.   The CNN/TIME/ORC poll, released last week, showed the potential for that happening.  

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