Stakes Highest for Santorum in South Carolina Debate on FoxNews Tonight

The bid by cultural conservatives to anoint Rick Santorum as the winner of the “Not Romney” Republican intra-primary primary has run aground.

That leaves the former Pennsylvania senator as the man with the most at stake in tonight’s FOX News/Wall Street Journal/South Carolina GOP debate. A breakout showing could revive Santorum’s chances, but if he fails, his campaign will founder.

The FOX News poll out today shows Santorum in a statistical three-way tie for second place nationally among Republican voters with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and libertarian-leaning Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

But in make-or-break South Carolina, Santorum trails Gingrich, who represented neighboring Georgia in Congress for 20 years, by an average of nearly 8 points in recent state polls. Santorum has been losing steam since his post-Iowa boom while Gingrich’s support has seemed to solidify following a December swoon and a backlash against his attacks on frontrunner Mitt Romney’s business record.

But more difficult for Santorum is that while his momentum has stalled, Paul, riding publicity from his second-place finish in New Hampshire, has gained ground. Plus, South Carolina’s Saturday primary is open to all registered voters, allowing Paul-backing independents to have their say.

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