Rick Santorum’s Iowa Bounce Comes With More Scrutiny

Dec 20, 2011 6:01pm

ABC’s Michael Falcone and Shushannah Walshe report:

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum scored more than just the endorsements of two influential Iowa social conservatives on Tuesday. He also won the attention of a Democratic super PAC that’s been keeping a close eye on the top contenders for the Republican nomination.

Up until now the super PAC, American Bridge 21st Century, paid little attention to the former Pennsylvania senator, but with two weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses, Santorum’s experiencing something of a last-minute bump. And now he’s getting a tracker dispatched by American Bridge.

The candidate, who has turned Iowa into a second home over the past few months, making stops in all of the state’s 99 counties, received two high-profile endorsements on Tuesday. Bob Vander Plaats, who heads the social conservative group, The Family Leader, threw his support behind Santorum as did Chuck Hurley, who leads the Iowa Family Policy Center, an organization affiliated with Vander Plaats’ group.

Vander Plaats called him a “champion for the family” and Hurley urged Iowa caucus-goers to “take a close look at Rick.”

Armed with a video camera and a laptop, Santorum’s new tracker from American Bridge plans to do just that as he trails the candidate to a select number of his campaign events each day.

A senior adviser to the super PAC, Ty Matsdorf, said in an interview with ABC News that anecdotal evidence of new momentum behind Santorum has suddenly catapulted the long-shot candidate into the group’s top tier of GOP hopefuls.

As American Bridge sees it, that puts Santorum in the same league with Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. So far, the group has employed two full time trackers covering Iowa. In the closing weeks before the caucuses they are bringing in one or two more to help monitor what the candidates are saying and doing in the Hawkeye State.

“Clearly conservative Republicans are rejecting Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich is slowing due to the relentless negative attacks leveled by Romney and Congressman Paul leaving the caucuses a jump ball with the winner being anyone’s guess,” Matsdorf said. “Thus, we are going to be on all points alert tracking these candidates.”

The group considers Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann second-tier candidates, and they will receive less scrutiny than the others. American Bridge also has trackers in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Nevada as well as several states where there are competitive Senate races.

“There’s no doubt that momentum is building for Rick Santorum. Conservatives are really starting to recognize that Rick is a viable, consistent alterative to the moderates like Mitt and Newt,” said top Santorum strategist Hogan Gidley. “It’s not just the conservatives who see it in Iowa, it’s the Democrats.”

Gidley added that “they ought to be concerned,” noting that Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, was “able to win conservative victories in a heavily Democratic state.”

Meanwhile, Matsdorf said, “The bottom line is that all these Republican candidates are pushing extreme ideologies that would hurt the middle class, and our job is to make sure voters know where they stand.”

American Bridge began their anti-Santorum push on Monday with a fact-sheet detailing the candidate’s work as a lobbyist for the World Wrestling Federation decades ago, accusing him of going “to the mat for a company plagued by drug abuse and unsafe working conditions.”

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