Rick Santorum Preps for 2016, Meets with Aides to Plan Details

PHOTO: Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum greets supporters, Jan. 19, 2015, at the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention in Myrtle Beach, S.C.PlayRandall Hill/AP Photo
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Rick Santorum met today with advisors to map out a possible new presidential bid aiming to avoid some of the mistakes that doomed his last candidacy.

A socially conservative former senator who was one of Mitt Romney’s biggest rivals for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Santorum is taking more steps toward another run, meeting Wednesday with a group of advisers who would join a possible campaign, planning some of the details and laying out what a bid might look like.

The four-plus hour meeting was described to ABC News by an aide who attended as a discussion of “lessons learned” from the 2012 campaign that they could use to improve their operation if he “makes the leap.” The group also got into more detailed planning that never happened before his last run, the aide said.

Among the topics discussed were Santorum’s potential timeline for a decision and possible roll-out, finance and fundraising plans, possible staff additions, early-state movements, communications strategy, political discussions, and putting the experiences and lessons from 2012 “into practice.” The goal would be to turn some of the “roadblocks” they faced into “speed bumps.”

One of the day’s sessions looked at some of the difficulties that the campaign experienced last time getting on the ballot in certain states. The group is looking at it now, so in the event Santorum is in, they are prepared for a “long-haul campaign” and will be able to get on the ballot in all 50 states. The aide said these “more serious discussions” on these topics “didn’t occur last time,” saying they really just went from state to state as the campaign ticked along without a clear strategy to get delegates or a detailed pathway to victory.

The aide stressed that no state will be off the table this time around or considered too far gone to a “Bush or a Romney” and they are instead now drilling down to see how they can nab delegates in each state from “Illinois to Colorado to California to New York,” examining each state’s specific delegate rules to “best maximize” Santorum’s “performance” in each state.

“These were all conversations the Santorum campaign didn’t have last time,” the aide said, adding the group also went into how to maximize Santorum himself, discussing how to best prepare for debates and what schedule is best for him on the campaign trail.

The aide said Santorum won’t make a final decision on a bid until later in the spring.

Among the participants who made presentations at the planning meeting were a small group of senior staff and family including John Brabender, Santorum’s longtime senior political advisor who ran his 2012 campaign, Santorum's former Capitol Hill chief of staff Mark Rodgers, 2012 Finance Director Nadine Maenza, Rob Bickhart, who is the current finance director of Santorum’s PAC Patriot Voices and the former RNC finance director, longtime friend and advisor who traveled with Santorum in 2012 Greg Rothman, and communications aides Matt Beynon and Virginia Davis.

Santorum’s wife Karen and several of his children were also in attendance at the meeting held in Leesburg, Virginia. The former Pennsylvania senator’s two eldest children Elizabeth and John took time off from college to help out their father’s campaign last time around and this meeting indicates the family will also be very involved if he runs again. No donors were in attendance.

When asked about the meeting, Beynon said Santorum and his wife “continue to seriously consider a run for the presidency in 2016,” adding Santorum is “very concerned with the direction our nation is heading, specifically what the future holds for the countless hard-working American families that have seen their wages stagnant, job opportunities dwindle, and a society that has counted them out.”

In 2012, Santorum tried to appeal to working class voters, stressing American manufacturing, and Beynon’s comments make it clear the candidate would focus on that strategy once again. Santorum is one of the only possible 2016 GOP candidates to call for an increase in the minimum wage (Mitt Romney has as well). But, in his last campaign that message targeting blue collar voters was often overshadowed by his socially conservative platform.

Beynon added that today’s meeting is “another step in his decision-making process,” saying he has been “encouraged by the outpouring of support and encouragement he has received from old, new, and returning supporters.”

Today’s session follows other meetings Santorum has held over the past two weeks in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., with supporters, friends, aides and donors. Santorum’s biggest donor in the last cycle, Foster Friess., also held a retreat last weekend in Scottsdale, Arizona, for Santorum with potential donors and supporters. Friess has made it clear he would also financially support a second Santorum campaign and a Santorum aide described that retreat as both “positive” and “encouraging” leading to today’s meeting.

Santorum won 11 primaries and caucuses in 2012, including the Iowa caucuses. It was an insurgent underdog campaign beating Romney in some states with a shoestring budget, but the field this time could be very different with other possible conservative candidates like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former neurosurgeon and conservative favorite Ben Carson, and Sen. Ted Cruz also making moves toward possible runs as well.