Will tonight be Rick Santorum's (one and only) night to shine?

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The latest major poll out of Iowa released on Monday shows a virtual three-way tie, with Public Policy Polling showing Ron Paul at 20 percent, Mitt Romney at 19 percent, and Rick Santorum at 18 percent going into tonight's Caucuses.

But the sentiment among many political reporters on the ground in the Hawkeye State is that it's Santorum who has the Big Mo in the final days and hours leading into tonight's vote, and that he could come out as the upset winner.

Considering that Jon Huntsman isn't competing in Iowa, such a result would show that yes, every Republican running for president was able to get his or her time in the spotlight there as the Anti-Romney. Let's face it, win or lose, Santorum is thrilled that he's finally being taken seriously by the powers that be, since for much of the campaign season the most vivid recollection most people have of him is his complaint that he hasn't been asked enough questions during the many debates that have taken place throughout the year.

The logical question to ask today, though, is: Why is Santorum finally breaking through?

One reporter on the ground says that it's simply vanity. That Santorum has spent considerable amounts of time telling Iowa audiences how great they are, and how they can make a statement by telling the pundits that they don't know nothin' about Iowans and how they really think.

In the Daily Beast, correspondent Andrew Romano writes:


It isn’t hard to see why this message is resonating with the 75 percent of Iowans who have repeatedly refused to support Mitt Romney: it’s totally flattering. The point of the Iowa caucuses isn’t to support the candidate the media says we should support! It’s to support the candidate we want to support! And who better to support than the man who’s been here for the last year, taking all of our questions, shaking all of our hands. The guy who thinks that paying attention to Iowa is important. The guy who, if he wins, will prove that paying attention to Iowa is important. He’s a foreign-policy hawk, like us. He’s a staunch social conservative, like us. And now that his numbers are rising, he won’t be a wasted vote—maybe, just maybe, a vote for him will matter.

Or, as Santorum himself put it at the Pizza Ranch: “If you vote for me you will send a clear message to this country as to what you believe."

Let's not forget that the Christian evangelical vote is significant in the Iowa GOP. And if you dig the excitement of the horse race, you ought to stay up late watching the cable news coverage in full, because it's doubtful that next week's race in New Hampshire will be nearly as exciting, unless it's simply to see if Mitt Romney underperforms there.

That's because Mittens has a huge lead in that primary (27 points up, according to the latest published survey).

Which is why one shouldn't make too much of the result if Romney falls short tonight, with that firewall already set up in the next primary.

And let's not forget about Ron Paul, who really does need to win tonight to keep his candidacy from being considered an interesting diversion.

So, back to the former Pennsylvania Senator. Say Santorum does shock the world. Then what? Like many other candidates, he's put everything into Iowa, essentially living there the last few months (yes, we get it, he campaigned in all 99 counties. So did Michelle Bachmann, right?)

If Santorum wins, he could easily be characterized as this year's Mike Huckabee. You remember the affable former Arkansas governor, who knocked off Romney in Iowa in 2008 (John McCain didn't even compete there), which was his high-water mark, demonstrating that Iowa is a way too over-hyped contest.

Then again, Barack Obama's victory over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Caucus was considered a major achievement, the first victory of what ultimately would be his successful run for the presidency.

Of course, Obama lost the following week to Clinton in New Hampshire. Best that we take these elections one week at a time.

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