By Jack Fink

If nothing else, this Republican primary season has had more ups and downs than the Texas Giant roller coaster at Six Flags over Texas in Arlington.

CBS 11 political analyst John Weekley has a better term for it:

The Trampoline Effect.

Michele Bachmann was up at the Iowa straw poll, then down when Rick Perry announced he was jumping into the race.

Rick Perry was up, then down after repeated stumbles during the debates, before the “Oops” moment finished him for good.

Newt Gingrich was down over the summer when his whole campaign team quit, then up when Republicans saw how well he did during debates and his big victory in South Carolina, only to fall  back down again in Florida.  He hasn’t been able to get back up.

Rick Santorum was down, then up after his close 2nd place finish in Iowa (he really came in first, but that wasn’t discovered until weeks later), then down after losing New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida.  But since his three victories in Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota, he’s now back up.  Way up.  He’s leading national polls, and in Michigan, a state Romney was expected to win on February 28th because his father was once that state’s Governor.

Ron Paul has had a very loyal following all along, and hasn’t been affected by the trampoline effect because most analysts agree he never had a real shot at the nomination anyway.

Mitt Romney always seemed to avoid getting onto the trampoline.  He’s had his steady core of voters.

But when he won Florida and Nevada, it was his turn on the trampoline.

The problem for him is, he learned the hard way that you don’t stay up for long on the trampoline that is the Republican nomination process this year.

As Weekley says, “the higher you jump up on the trampoline, the harder you can fall.”

Romney’s loss in Colorado, a state he won in 2008, raised a lot of questions about his support.  Losing in Missouri and Minnesota only made the problem worse.

Conservatives have always had their doubts about Romney.  While some have still voted for him, many did so believing he was the most likely Republican to defeat President Barack Obama this fall.

Some voters said they voted with their heads, not their hearts.  But after Santorum’s surprising wins last week, and with his surge in the polls, many Republicans may now believe they can vote with their hearts, not just their heads.

During Santorum’s visit to North Texas last week, I met a woman who said the debates turned her off, and that she was only starting to pay attention to the race.  She heard Santorum, and liked what he said.  Another couple I met said they favored Gingrich, but that they were open to the idea of supporting Santorum.

I didn’t meet anyone who favored Romney.  But he still has a lot of supporters here in Texas.

The big question now for Santorum is can he continue to stay up, without falling back down and off the trampoline?

The next test will be next week’s debate, and soon after the Michigan and Arizona primaries.  Victories there will add to his momentum, and raise more doubts about Romney.

But the real test comes during Super Tuesday, March 6th.  As I’ve previously written, if Santorum can win in Ohio, a big and diverse state, where none of the candidates has a built-in advantage, he will re-set the entire race.   Again.

– CBS 11 political reporter Jack Fink

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