I think Daniel Henninger is onto something here:
Santorum's 35-minute speech in Cuyahoga Falls touched an array of subjects that drew applause. But at the halfway point, when he tore into ObamaCare, his mostly working-class audience exploded into applause and cries of "Rick! Rick! Rick!"
Mr. Santorum didn't get this response by discussing health-insurance exchanges and guaranteed issue. He told these people that ObamaCare "is usurping your rights. It is creating a culture of dependency. Every single American will be dependent on government, thanks to ObamaCare. There is no more important issue in this race. It magnifies all that is wrong with what this president is trying to do." His call for repeal produced the explosion.
He followed with an tight description of how he understands the terms of the election: "This race is coming down to the economy, the deficit and control of your life, which is ObamaCare." (There was no mention of contraception, gays or the role of women.)
He won't be able to avoid the contraception issue on healthcare which, as I've argued from the get-go, is a win-win for the Democrats (thanks to Rush and the Cardinals). But on the issue of the individual mandate, Santorum has, I think, a potential winner. Maybe this will be resolved by the Supreme Court and render the politics of this moot. But until then, Santorum's opposition to an individual mandate is a clear red line between him and Romney, resonates with the Tea Party, and obscures Santorum's own contempt for freedom when it leads to activities he regards as sins. If framed within an argument about government's more general over-reach because of the Great Recession, it's powerful way to rally the base. And God knows Romney has got nothing to counter it with.
And remember the other primary candidate who opposed the individual mandate? He's now president.