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The Election 2012 Weekly Report: Santorumentum?

Santorum's big night
It ain't over yet. Rick Santorum pulled off an unlikely hat-trick on Tuesday night, winning caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado as well as a non-binding primary in Missouri -- a troubling development for frontrunner Mitt Romney, who received lower vote totals in all three states than he did in 2008.
"I don't stand here and claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.... I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama," Santorum said in a speech to supporters in St. Louis. Once seen as the presumptive challenger to Romney, Newt Gingrich wasn't even on the ballot in Missouri and had disappointing third and fourth-place finishes in the other contests. His campaign is now focused on the Super Tuesday contests on March 6, which will award more than 400 delegates.
Santorum's surprising success is likely to focus more media scrutiny on his foreign-policy views, which have so far received less attention than his socially conservative domestic policies. In particular, Santorum has a long record of hawkish views on Iran and Islam. 

Women in combat
The announcement this week that the Pentagon is easing some restrictions on women in combat is already resonating in the campaign. Santorum expressed concerns about the policy change this week, telling NBC's Ann Curry, "When you have men and women together in combat, I think men have emotions when you see a woman in harm's way.... I think it's something that's natural that's very much in our culture to be protective. That was my concern, and I think that's a concern with all the military.''
Polls, however, show strong support -- even among those describing themselves as "very conservative" -- for allowing women to serve in combat roles.

Release the Bachmann
The Conservative Political Action Conference is meeting this week in Washington, D.C. and while there is reportedly little enthusiasm for Romney's candidacy at the event, former candidate Michele Bachmann fired up the crowd with a withering assault on Barack Obama's foreign-policy record. "After a decade of sacrifice to defeat global jihad, Obama has chosen to hand Iraq to Iran," Bachmann said. "Before Obama was elected, no one had ever heard a United States president say to the world that we are anything but an exceptional nation," she continued. "And before President Obama was elected, we never had a president go around apologizing to the world."
Romney will address CPAC on Friday in what's being seen as a critical opportunity to defend his conservative credentials.

Romney readies
While he may be a long way from finishing off his Republican rivals, Romney is apparently already prepping for a foreign-policy debate with Obama. RealClearPolitics reports that for the past three weeks, the Romney campaign has been holding a weekly conference call with the more than 40 experts who are advising the campaign on foreign policy. Romney's campaign argues that despite Obama's generally high approval ratings on foreign affairs, he will be vulnerable on defense spending, tension with Israel, the "reset" policy with Russia, and his inability to halt the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon.

Liberals learn to stop worrying and love drones and Gitmo
Obama may have fired up the base in 2008 by attacking the Bush administration's harsh counterterrorism policies, but with a Democrat in office, these same voters seem to be becoming more comfortable with the war on terror. A new CBS-Washington Post poll finds that 70 percent of voters -- including 53 percent of self-identified liberal democrats -- approve of keeping the detention center at Guantanamo Bay open. Obama signed an executive order closing the prison in the first week of his presidency, but that promise has now been largely abandoned in the face of strong congressional opposition. The poll also found that 77 percent of liberal democrats support drone strikes against suspected terrorists and a majority also support the use of drones U.S. citizens who are suspected of terrorism overseas.

What to watch for
Maine will announce the results of its week-long caucuses on Saturday. The independent-leaning northeast state may be Ron Paul's best chance for a win, as neither Gingrich nor Santorum have campaigned in the low-turnout contest.

On the Election Channel
Uri Friedman reads Santorum's 40+ op-eds on Iran so you don't have to.
Charles Kupchan says Romney should get real and admit it's not going to be an American century. Shadow Government's Will Inboden counters.
David Hoffman lists 5 pressing national security threats that haven't been mentioned in the campaign.
Scott Clement, from the Washington Post's Behind the Numbers team, finds little voter support for a U.S. intervention in Syria.
Joshua E. Keating profiles America's weirdest Super PAC.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

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