No wonder Willard is looking so sad these days.

He’s spending money like water, because he can. He’s umpteen times better off in the finances department than any of his Rushpubliscum competition, and he’s burning through that money at a furious clip. He’s got a plethora of prominent Rushpubliscum politicians to speak out for him as well.

And none of it seems to mean a damned thing.

 

Rick Santorum is within striking distance of Mitt Romney in Arizona, a state that was considered reliable Romney territory just weeks ago, according to a new TIME/CNN poll.

Thirty-six percent of likely Republican voters back Romney while 32% support Santorum. The poll, which was conducted Sunday through Monday, has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points, meaning the two candidates are in a statistical dead heat.

 

Newt Gingrich ranks third with 18% support, followed by Ron Paul with 6%.

 

It is the second poll this week to find Romney and Santorum running neck-and-neck in Arizona, with just one week before Arizona’s GOP presidential primary. Previous polls showed Romney with double-digit leads over his competitors in the state, where he placed second behind John McCain in 2008.

 

Yep, the little rich boy who has always been able to buy whatever he wanted, can’t buy Rushpubliscum votes, though he is paying much more for every potential vote than Rapture Rick is. And besides…. Rapture Rick is insane, which ought to be helping Willard out, shouldn’t it?

It isn’t. Willard appears to be second in unpopularity only to the President among Rushpubliscum ranks.

 

Four years after Democrats waited on superdelegates to settle an unsettled race, Republicans are waiting for their Superman – and waiting, and waiting.

 

That waiting is threatening to overcome a race that has party elders increasingly concerned about their ability to defeat a vulnerable President Obama. Suddenly, the panic button is in reach — and there may be nothing any of the current candidates can do to stop it from being pressed.

 

A loss by Mitt Romney in Michigan would unleash years’ worth of frustrations at the GOP frontrunner. It might even be enough to convince a critical mass of Republican leaders to look outside the current field, to a non-candidate who could consolidate the party at that extinct political animal known as a contested convention.

 

“If Romney cannot win Michigan, we need a new candidate,” a veteran GOP senator who hasn’t made an endorsement in the race told ABC’s Jonathan Karl late last week.

 

Romney remains the favorite for the nomination, and would still be so even if he loses Michigan. But a string of losses that start in Michigan would make a Rick Santorum win plausible — something that would spark serious worry among Republicans whose primary goal is winning the presidency.

 

The concerns inside the party about the two candidates most likely to win the nomination are different, but both speak to the Republican Party’s identity crisis this election year.

 

The unease over Romney starts with a passion gap and spills over into electability. Romney continues to look vulnerable, notwithstanding the fact that he holds an advantage in every objective campaign metric, in addition to a delegate lead over his rivals.

 

Six years of campaigning for the presidency haven’t been able to convince the party’s regulars to fall in love with Romney.

 

But a loss in Michigan would betray more than a simple lack of enthusiasm. He’d be losing a large industrial Midwestern battleground — filled with the kinds of voters who will decide the presidential campaign — not to mention the state he was born and raised in, and where his father was governor.

 

The man he’s in danger of losing to brings his own set of problems in the minds of many Republicans. Rick Santorum’s rise has been fueled by a blue-collar economic appeal, in addition to his strong stands on conservative social issues.

 

It’s the latter that is getting the scrutiny now, and would be made famous by Democrats in the fall. Santorum’s positions on abortion, gay rights, and even contraception are coming into focus early, in a preview of a fall campaign that has some Republicans worried about a Goldwater-like blowout.

 

Republicans don’t want to nominate someone they believe is likely to lose. That will leave them reexamining their choices if Romney doesn’t close out Santorum next Tuesday in Michigan, and follow with a dominating performance a week later on Super Tuesday.

 

Given how tight Michigan is sure to be, it simply does not matter anymore whether or not Willard can buy his way to a win. Anyone who has been rejected as many times as Willard has by his own party isn’t going to win a general election, barring some major miracle.

I’m still thinking that the Rushpubliscum leadership is going to find a way to slide Jebbo in at the convention, because Jebbo could at least assure that the “solid South” would fall back in line. In the meantime, I suppose we can all continue to enjoy the clown show.

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