Could Rick Santorum Beat Barack Obama?

Barack Obama is ahead of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in 12 swing states -- but the incumbent might still have to do some work to beat the pol from Pennsylvania, according to a new poll by Purple Strategies, a political consulting group.

Santorum has stolen the G.O.P lead from Romney in these battlegrounds, marking the first time a Republican candidate has outperformed the former Massachusetts gov in "Purple States."

Obama still holds the lead -- besting Romney by 4 points (47 percent to 43 percent) and Santorum by 2 points (46 percent to 44 percent).

Analysts at the think-tank say the results question Romney's electability.

With independent voters, Romney lags by 3 points -- but Santorum is ahead of the prez by 2 points (44 percent to 42 percent).

"What's significant is that Santorum is doing better than Romney in the general election," Doug Usher, managing partner for research at Purple, tells Runnin' Scared.

"What we'd seen before in our polling and other polling was that Romney would do better than Republican challengers -- in other words, he was the most electable. But here we are, months into the campaign, and Romney is becoming less and less favorable."

So what's up with Romney?

First off, he's not that popular with Republicans.

"He's at 42-41 percent favorable and 40 percent unfavorable -- which for somebody in a primary...the word that comes to mind is shocking," Usher says.

What has not happened for Romney -- or other G.O.P. contenders -- is that their campaigns have still been primary-focused, rather than becoming cause-oriented.

This is key, Usher says: Obama mobilized support by making his candidacy about change and hope -- not the election per se.

And George W. Bush's 'cause' was a promise to protect America.

But could Santorum really beat Obama in the general election?

"For those who know Santorum and know his record, he just doesn't seem to match up with other serious heavyweights," Usher tells Runnin' Scared.

But for right-wingers, "all they really know about him is that he's a conservative. They know that he's the latest challenge to Romney and they know that he's a winner, and they get that info from the fact that he's won three straight events. The negatives haven't been aired."

Usher cautions however, that this might be the height of Santorum's success, pointing to the quick rise and fall of Newt Gingrich. He adds that a long primary will not necessarily help Obama.

"Everybody has their moment in the sun," he says.

[H/T The Daily Beast]

Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.

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