No Champagne for Rick Santorum's Guru John Brabender

John Brabender knows 2012 success is fleeting.

As Rick Santorum’s chief strategist, you might think John Brabender would be feeling pretty smart for reviving his man’s candidacy.

But, he said in an interview here at the CPAC conference, “we’re not that brilliant.” Working for a candidate who recently was way back in the pack, “We’re not giddy by any means.”He knows full well that a hot GOP candidate can quickly turn icy in 2012.

Brabender allowed that “there’s an excitement we didn’t anticipate” after the former senator swept Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado on Tuesday, while admitting he had no idea they would win the caucuses in Colorado. “There is obviously a Romney excitement gap,” Brabender said. And he noted that a new poll has Santorum up by 7 points in Tennessee, seemingly out of nowhere.

But Santorum’s consultant refused to pick a fight with Gingrich, even though Newt and Rick are splitting the anti-Romney vote. “I do think Newt is extremely committed to the conservative cause and will do what he thinks is helpful to the conservative cause. He and Rick are very good friends.” The former senator, he told me, thinks “you do not ask someone to get out of the race” because that decision is so “personal.”

Brabender conceded that Santorum and Gingrich will go head to head in several states, including Ohio, Texas and Tennessee. But in an interesting twist, he said there is no longer a state-by-state race: “There’s a national perception race that ties in with the demographics of each state.”

If polls start showing Santorum beating Obama, that could be a game-changer, Brabender says. “If the electability argument goes off the table for Romney, what he’s missing are the core Republican issues.”

So the all-powerful polls can in fact influence the race—in a way that could potentially allow Brabender a small measure of giddiness.