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Rick Santorum is polling way ahead of Mitt Romney in Missouri, and even though no delegates will be awarded Tuesday, it will show what Santorum can do when Newt Gingrich isn't on the ballot.

Santorum is leading Romney in Missouri with 45 percent to Romney's 35 percent, a Public Policy Polling survey released Tuesday finds. The former senator also leads in Minnesota and is beating Gingrich for second in Colorado. PPP's Tom Jensen writes that Santorum is personally popular in all three states, and he's winning among Tea Partiers, evangelicals, and very conservative voters. Tellingly, Romney's campaign began attacking Santorum this week, which Santorum is taking as a compliment. "It's a badge of honor that Romney has decided to try to destroy us," Santorum aide John Brabender told The Washington Examiner's Byron York.

This might be the best chance for Santorum to replace Gingrich as No. 1 Not Romney, Politico's Alexander Burns writes. This appears to be the view of The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, who has given up on begging for a new candidate to enter the race and has been pushing for Santorum in the last week or so. In a post addressed to Midwestern voters today, Kristol argues that even if you really want Ron Paul to stay in the race, you should vote for Santorum, which will make the contest last longer. Really:

But if you think it's in Paul's interest to keep the race alive, you might consider a tactical vote for the leading non-Romney alternative. Who is... Rick Santorum. Gingrich isn't on the ballot in the Missouri “beauty contest” primary, and Paul trails badly. Missouri is pretty much a one-on-one match between Romney and Santorum. A Santorum victory would slow Romney's momentum—and would certainly give Santorum a boost—going forward.

A "strong showing for Santorum would do the most to slow the Romney juggernaut," Kristol says.

Romney is already playing down Tuesday's vote, with his supporter, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, dismissing his own state as too right wing. Voters there "gravitate toward the perceived most conservative candidate," Pawlenty said, according to Politico. In Missouri, Romney can argue that he spent no time or money there because the primary awards no delegates, according to The Washington Post's Aaron Blake. (If that's the case, then why did Romney compete in the other states, that also don't award delegates either?)

If Santorum wins a couple states Tuesday, he can look forward to facing the full strength of that "Romney juggernaut," a challenge  illustrated by the photo above of Santorum posing with a Paul Bunyan. Romney is already attacking Santorum in exactly the same way he attacked Gingrich -- as a corrupt faux conservative. We know how that worked out for Newt.

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