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The Brief: Feb. 20, 2012

The Santorum swell seems to have spread to Texas.

Rick Santorum leaving the USS Yorktown after a campaign stop in Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 17, 2012.

The Big Conversation:

The Santorum swell seems to have spread to Texas.

The former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania — who received a bump, and has held steady, in several polls since his surprise victories two weeks ago in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri — holds a huge lead in the state over his Republican rivals, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll.

Santorum received 45 percent of the vote, compared with Newt Gingrich at 18 percent, Mitt Romney at 16 percent and Ron Paul at 14 percent.

With Rick Perry now out of the race, Republicans in Texas — who in an October UT/TT poll had largely split their votes between Perry and Herman Cain — have flocked to Santorum.

"Rick Santorum has cut through the clutter and emerged as not simply the non-Romney candidate, but as the most credible conservative candidate in the race," said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. "He hasn't totally clinched that, but Santorum has gone from a guy who couldn't get two minutes in a debate to being a guy who looks like the front-runner — not just in Texas, but maybe nationally."

Though all four Republicans would beat Barack Obama in a general election matchup, Santorum fares best against the president, besting him 51 percent to 37 percent. Gingrich would win 49 to 38 percent, Romney 49 to 36 percent and Paul 44 to 35 percent. But Santorum was the only Republican in the race who received higher favorable ratings than unfavorable ratings. Santorum was rated favorably by 42 percent of voters and unfavorably by 31 percent. By comparison, Romney was rated favorably by 27 percent of voters and unfavorably by 48 percent.

"Three or four months ago, I thought Republican voters were just looking around, that they didn't just dislike Romney, but that they thought there might be a better option. I don't know that you can think that anymore," Shaw said. "I think it's pretty clear that they're not just looking around in a way that would allow them to ultimately come back and settle with Romney. They seem to have looked at him and rejected him. They will not settle for the guy."

Texans were also asked whether people they know would vote for a Mormon for president. Fifty-eight percent said yes, 21 percent said no and another 21 percent said they weren't sure.

Culled:

  • Ron Paul netted 163 votes, and a win, in Maine's delayed Washington County caucus on Saturday. But Paul still fell short of Mitt Romney in statewide totals, dashing Paul's hope of claiming his first win. But Paul still maintains that he may have won the most delegates from the state. “It all depends on how you measure winning," he told CNN on Sunday. "If you measure whether or not we’re winning the maximum number of delegates in states, we actually have had wins even though the final tallies not in."
  • U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi campaigned in San Antonio on Saturday for congressional candidate Joaquin Castro, who may — depending on redistricting outcomes — challenge longtime Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett for a seat in the House. Pelosi, the San Antonio Express-News reports, will spend part of the weeklong House recess in South Texas. In other Texas fundraising news, the Express-News also reports that George P. Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and nephew of George W. Bush, and Ben Quayle, son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, will hold a fundraiser in Houston on Wednesday as part of an effort to engage young professionals politically.
  • In the first 16 days after leaving the presidential race, Gov. Rick Perry visited his office just three times and stayed less than three hours each time, The Dallas Morning News reported Sunday. But Perry aides deny that the governor has kept a light schedule lately. "It's the same as when he was on the road campaigning; even though he's not in the office and it's not indicated on his schedule, he's still conducting state business," said Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for the governor. "With the technology that we have today, you don't necessarily have to be in the office to be doing your job."

"I don't see how that's possible."Ron Paul to CNN on whether Rick Santorum could beat Barack Obama in a general election

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