Split in conservative vote is propelling a moderate to the nomination -- again

Rick Santorum’s late surge in Iowa, coupled with the apparent determination of Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich to make a three-week stand through South Carolina, could augur for a bloody, multi-party battle on the right while Romney rides strength in Iowa and New Hampshire.

That’s led some movement veterans to call for the base to rally around whichever conservative does best in the caucuses on Tuesday — a distinction that polls are showing as likely to go to Santorum…

In some quarters on the right, exasperation with the fractured state of affairs has already boiled over. David Lane, an influential and low-profile Christian conservative, wrote in an email to associates Friday that he feared a 2008 redux, when Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee split the conservative vote to give John McCain a crucial win in South Carolina.

“We have Fred Thompson to thank for McCain as the Republican nominee in 2008,” wrote Lane, who said he sees Santorum playing a similar role this time undercutting better-funded opponents.