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Can Rick Santorum "Sneak" a Wisconsin Win Today?

Can Rick Santorum "Sneak" a Wisconsin Win Today?

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Whether Rick Santorum can pull out a surprise win today in Wisconsin's pivotal primary could depend on how many of his evangelical Christian supporters get to the polls.

Mitt Romney has lost in every state where exit polls conducted by Edison Research have shown that more than 50% of voters were born-again or evangelical Christians. In the 2008 Wisconsin primary, according to CNN exit polls, only 38% of voters identified themselves as evangelicals. If that number holds true today, it means Wisconsin wouldn't fit the profile of states Santorum has won.

But a comparison of exit polls from 2008 to now shows an increase in the percentage of born-again and evangelical voters in the very few places where data on that group is available. Take Mississippi, for example, where 69% of voters fit the description in 2008. The number jumped to 83%, a 14 point increase. And Santorum won the state handily.

Mississippi isn't alone in seeing an increase, but the Santorum campaign probably hopes its more representative than the likes of Nevada, which saw an increase of 4 points among evangelical voters from 24% in 2008 to 28% now. In Arizona, like Wisconsin, a mere 38% of voters were born-again or evangelical in 2008. But that number went to 42% this year despite Santorum largely skipping the long-shot state to focus instead on a closer race in Michigan. For that matter, he also never had much of a chance in Nevada.

While Santorum hasn't spent more time in Wisconsin compared to other places he's won, his campaign has more hopes of winning there than it did in Arizona or Nevada.

"We feel good that we're going to have a good result here in Wisconsin," Santorum predicted during an interview with Fox News, according to Politico. "We're going to have a strong showing, maybe even sneak in and have an upset."

The most recent poll in Wisconsin, conducted by Public Policy Polling, has Romney winning 43% to 36% over Santorum. And it already includes a slightly larger share of evangelical voters than 2008, with 41%, or just 3 points more than appeared in 2008. The NBC/Marist poll from last week that also showed Romney with a 7-point lead assumed 41% of voters would be evangelical.

The new PPP poll includes one especially hopeful piece of news for Santorum, that he leads Romney 52% to 27% among voters who decided "in the last few days." And Wisconsin is an open primary state, which means independents and Democrats can vote, which sometimes leads to mischief. In Michigan, for example, the liberal website DailyKos called on Democrats to vote for Santorum just to prolong the race. Exit polls ther showed an increase in Democrats over 2008 and with them breaking sharply in Santorum's favor.

But it will still more likely be Santorum's turnout of an evangelical base that supports his antigay, socially conservative views that could be key.

"Evangelicals have not warmed to Romney's candidacy," wrote Richard Land, the influential president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in an op-ed in USA Today on Sunday. Land says evangelicals see Santorum as "their candidate." But Land predicts they'll move toward Romney if he becomes the nominee.

No matter what happens today, Santorum said this weekend that his campaign will continue. He's looking forward to May with a round of states, including his home state of Pennsylvania, that have profiles with an easier match.

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Can Rick Santorum "Sneak" a Wisconsin Win Today?

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Lucas Grindley

Lucas Grindley is VP and Editorial Director for Here Media, which is parent company to The Advocate. His Twitter account is filled with politics, Philip Glass appreciation, and adorable photos of his twin toddler daughters.
Lucas Grindley is VP and Editorial Director for Here Media, which is parent company to The Advocate. His Twitter account is filled with politics, Philip Glass appreciation, and adorable photos of his twin toddler daughters.