On Monday and Tuesday of this week, it was Romney 35, Gingrich 26, Santorum 17. On Wednesday and Thursday, after he hit the Missouri/Minnesota/Colorado trifecta: Santorum 30, Romney 30, Gingrich 16. And remember, there are no southern primaries between now and Super Tuesday, so if Newt’s counting on a regional split to put him back in the game, he’ll have to weather another three weeks of Santorum as the (momentary) designated Not Romney.

Key footnotes:

Most GOP primary voters — 80 percent — think someone other than frequent frontrunner Romney could still win the Republican nomination, and over half say it’s too soon for any of the current contenders to drop out (54 percent). Moreover, nearly half would still like to see someone else jump in the race (49 percent)..

Santorum (36 percent) is seen by GOP primary voters as the candidate most “in touch” with everyday Americans. That’s more than twice as many as any other Republican contender: Paul (16 percent), Romney (16 percent) and Gingrich (12 percent). Eight percent say none of the Republican candidates are in touch with voters.

Gingrich is 10 times more likely than anyone else in the field to be seen as a “Washington insider,” which should be lethal for his strategy of running as the anti-establishment grassroots champion. As for Mitt, there’s only one thing to do when you’re a “severe conservative” being threatened by an opponent’s surge: Nuke him with negative ads, of course. But will that fly this time? Byron York’s hearing pushback at CPAC:

Mitt Romney met privately with a group of conservative activists and opinion leaders Thursday, on the eve of his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. In a wide-ranging discussion, a number of participants urged Romney to refrain from attacking rival Rick Santorum with the scorched-earth intensity that he directed at Newt Gingrich…

“He said Rick has to be held up to the same scrutiny as everyone else,” says one meeting participant. (This account is based on conversations with three people who were in the room.) Romney specifically mentioned hitting Santorum on his record on earmarks and other federal spending.

It’s not clear whether Romney’s answer satisfied the group. In general, a number of participants don’t want to see a repeat of the Romney-Gingrich attacks because a) they feel Santorum doesn’t deserve it, and b) they believe the negativity has been bad for Republicans overall. Romney told the group that the attacks on Gingrich were not his doing but rather the work of the super PAC that works on Romney’s behalf but not under his control.

I can’t believe he tried the “I have no control over my Super PAC” crap on a bunch of savvy political insiders. Good lord. The quandary for Mitt here is that there is a decent line of attack available against Santorum but, for understandable reasons, he almost certainly can’t use it. Namely, he could argue that Santorum’s as unelectable as Gingrich because once the media starts zeroing in on his positions on social issues, that’ll become the focus of campaign coverage instead of the economy and suddenly independents will start to drift away. He’s got three problems with that argument, though. One: Unlike Gingrich, Santorum’s favorable numbers are as good as Romney’s right now, and in some polls better. Doesn’t mean they’ll stay that way but it’s hard to point fingers when your own numbers are worse. Two: Obviously, Romney’s conservative credentials are already so suspect that he can’t afford to hit Santorum from the left on social issues. And the more Planned Parenthood and O’s contraception mandate are in the news, the truer that is. Three: Santorum could counter that, in light of the solid jobs numbers in the last unemployment report, it’s actually Romney who’s on shaky ground in the general. If the economy starts to heat up, Romney’s left with no argument for his candidacy but Santorum will still have cultural issues to fight on. Read Matthew Continetti’s latest post for an elaboration on that point. If all you’ve got is “electability” and the chance of a poor economy persisting into the fall, you don’t have much. And even if the bad economy does persist, any GOP nominee will benefit, not just Romney.

For what it’s worth, the head of the group that runs CPAC told the Daily Mail today that he can see Jeb Bush emerging as a consensus choice at the convention if Super Tuesday ends up being split three ways. Remember, Ohio’s the big one. I’ll leave you with this clip of Santorum talking about women in combat, just because it’s making the rounds and the left’s interpretation of his comments has been bugging me. They thought that his reference to “other types of emotions” was his way of saying that women will wilt under pressure in war. Not so; I knew instantly what he meant and my interpretation was affirmed today. What he means is that discipline among men in a mixed-gender unit might break down if they see a woman comrade injured or killed and their protective instinct kicks in. It’s not mere speculation; there’s evidence confirming that this is a risk. Maybe that instinct can be drilled out of male soldiers, but he’s getting a bad rap here on what he meant. Noted for the record.

Update: I hit “publish” and then immediately saw the latest tweets from PPP. Not only does Santorum have a “healthy” lead in their new national poll, apparently he’s also leading in Michigan, home to former Gov. George Romney and his son Mitt. Quote: “This may be the biggest surge yet”.