Santorum: ‘Slow and Steady’ Will Win Iowa

Sep 27, 2011 6:00am

gty rick santorum jef 110926 main Santorum: Slow and Steady Will Win Iowa

 

Rick Santorum  hopes that Republicans who are disappointed with Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann and are not excited by Mitt Romney will take another look at the rest of the pack instead of hoping for a new candidate to enter the race.

Santorum has essentially moved to Iowa, and he hopes that some big moments at recent debates in Florida and South Carolina — along with his strong social conservative credentials — will start a brushfire of support in the plains, much like it did for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee four years ago.

Just a month out of her Ames Straw Poll victory, Michele Bachmann, another social conservative who had a similar Iowa strategy, seems to be in freefall, and Santorum is hoping to grab the space that the Minnesota congresswoman previously inhabited, and the voters that go along with it.

And it’s not just Bachmann. Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s poor debate performance coupled with his disappointing results in the Florida GOP P5 Straw Poll are signs to Santorum that he has a shot at the nomination and the White House, the former Pennsylvania senator said.

“There’s no question that the last two debates have had a big impact” on the reaction he’s seen in the first caucus state of Iowa, he said to ABC News while on the tarmac at Newark-Liberty Airport waiting to take off to fly home to Harrisburg, Pa.

“I think that they like the fact that I’m out there talking about these issues,” Santorum said. “I’ve been very clear on the issues and obviously they have some great concerns about Romney and Perry. I’m hearing that and I think that’s what you saw in Florida. People have concerns. They are unhappy with the choices, if that’s the two choices we are given, and they want to see somebody else.”

Santorum said his camp has even been in talks with “key people” in Bachmann’s camp. These people are not paid staff, but Iowa activists that “are in conversations with us and see things not going well for her,” he explained.

“There’s no question that doubts have been raised about Michele [Bachmann] and her electability, and certainly we clearly benefit from that,” Santorum said. “We are picking up people, not just [Tim] Pawlenty people in Iowa, but also folks who had supported Bachmann and we know that folks, even some of her key people are coming to talk to us, let’s put it that way.”

Santorum says his approach to the Hawkeye state is “slow and steady,” and he’s intent on surprising the country — as Mike Huckabee did in 2008 — and winning the Iowa caucuses.  He says the narrative of a two-man race, which Santorum sees as “the media shoving down their [voters'] throat[s]” is now out the window with Herman Cain’s win in Florida adding the GOP electorate has problems with Romney’s “lack of consistent conservatism.”

“They are also increasingly concerned about Rick Perry,” Santorum said of the Florida straw poll results. “He was hailed, well by the folks in the media as ‘the next conservative savior’, if you will, and now folks are finding out, well, that’s not exactly the way it is, so they are very open to looking at new candidates and that’s an opportunity for me and we are certainly taking advantage of it.”

One thing Santorum can’t compete with Perry and Romney on is fundraising, though he said his campaign has seen an “uptick” in contributions since Thursday’s Fox News/Google debate.

“I’m not doing a lot of fundraisers, I’m just doing enough. We have a budget and we have fundraisers to meet that budget, that’s it and I’m not spending a lot of time doing it,” Santorum said. “We’re paying our bills, that’s what we are doing and we have a slow burn rate.”

If Santorum is able to replicate Huckabee’s Iowa win in 2008, he won’t want to repeat some of the pitfalls the former Arkansas governor found himself in despite the big win, namely not being able to raise enough money to compete in the other states after Iowa. Santorum Communications Director Hogan Gidley said contributions “have gone through the roof since the last two debates” and they expect the money to come in due time.

“Mike Huckabee raised more money after the caucuses than he did every day combined leading up to the caucuses. It was an explosion after his win in Iowa. We’re planning on the same thing,” Gidley said, adding that they don’t need “Washington consultants” and “million-dollar speechwriters” because Santorum is “comfortable with who he is.”

Gidley says supporters at events are “growing in number,” but “more importantly they are growing in zeal for the candidate. The people who are for Rick Santorum, it’s not soft support,” Gidley told ABC News. “The crowds I see in Iowa and I see in South Carolina, it’s not soft support. It’s not a flash in the pan candidacy … the people we have on board, they are serious constituents that care deeply about the country.”

The most important thing the Santorum camp is seeing in Iowa, and something that potentially could lead to his victory there, are voters that have Santorum as their “second choice.” If Bachmann continues to slip or voters become uncomfortable with Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s foreign policy stances, Santorum’s camp believes they will give Santorum a second look. In a caucus, being voters’ second choice is important because it can go to several ballots.

The campaign says that as Santorum builds his name recognition in Iowa, voters will move him from second to first choice. The opposite will happen to Perry, as it may already be happening with Bachmann, his campaign says.

“The more real conservatives get a real look at Rick Perry’s real record there’s a real problem,” Gidley said.

Of course it all comes down to electability and Bob Haus, a longtime GOP strategist in Iowa who is now on Perry’s team in the state says there just isn’t a path for Santorum.

“I do think Santorum has been very slow and steady in his approach to Iowa, but what I don’t see and what he hasn’t been able to elaborate yet is after several fourth-place finishes or worse, which he points to as his continued rationale for his candidacy, I don’t see a long-term rationale to win the nomination or beat president Obama,” Haus said.

Haus adds that the same problems that hindered Huckabee in 2008: A “lack of fundraising” will prevent Santorum from competing in other states, but it’s their personality differences that will keep Santorum from repeating Huckabee’s surprise victory four years ago.

“The other big difference between Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum is that Iowa voters liked Mike Huckabee’s sunny optimism and upbeat personality, and Santorum just doesn’t have that,” Haus said.

This point has been continuously made since Thursday’s debate when Santorum gave a cold answer to a gay soldier who asked a question about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell being brought back and did not respond to booing from the audience.

Craig Robinson is the former political director of the Iowa GOP and he sees Iowa as “wide open.”

“It’s almost like a series of bad re-runs,” Robinson said, referring to the amount of candidates that have caught steam and then began to falter including Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry. “They make an initial splash, but nobody wants to do the hard work. They don’t want to do the state work … building the rapport with caucus goers. I think Santorum has been to at least twice as many counties as Bachmann and probably five times the counties Perry has been to.”

Robinson added that he might not be getting the huge crowds, but he’s “building a very loyal following” and putting that hard work in is the key to caucus victory, but he disagrees with Haus that Santorum is unlike Huckabee in the personality department saying he hasn’t “run into anyone that doesn’t like him.”

However, another Republican consultant in Iowa sees Santorum’s fire and brimstone as having a limit with voters, despite how angry they seem right now.

“I think there is a part of the electorate that wants that fire and anger, but I do think there’s a ceiling out there. The Tom Tancredo ceiling of four or five percent. People ultimately want to associate with their president, like their president, know they can have a beer with their president and not be yelled at and scorned,” said the consultant.

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