Ready for a Fight

01.04.12

Can Santorum Compete in New Hampshire and Beyond?

Rick Santorum intends to ride his Iowa wave into the Granite State and later primaries, declaring “Game on.” But the question is whether he has the organization, money, and appeal to do well in New Hampshire and become a major player.

Rick Santorum’s New Hampshire operation was over the moon Tuesday night as their man unexpectedly soared to a photo finish with Mitt Romney for first place in the Iowa caucuses, finally coming in a tight second by just eight votes.  But it will take more than sheer joy and political dexterity for his small organization here to lift him from fifth place in the Granite State.

The next test for Santorum now is whether he can realistically pivot his stunning Iowa success quickly into a New Hampshire surge—and beyond. Single-state strategies rarely are effective long term, and many Republicans say this is no exception. Santorum has had neither the money nor the organization to get traction here.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, holds a commanding lead in New Hampshire, as well as millions of dollars to go the distance. And third-place Iowa finisher Rep. Ron Paul has an army of well-organized, messianic volunteers to propel him.

In the most recent public-opinion survey in the state, Santorum was the choice of only 5 percent of the vote. He has had no money to run paid advertisements, and now he can count on his rivals to come after him with big guns.

"Senator Santorum is about to discover the wrath of the super PAC!” said Patrick Griffin, a senior fellow at the Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College: “Intense scrutiny, tough ads, and an uphill battle to raise money, continue to deploy staff, and search for a significant number of social conservative voters that are simply not as plentiful in New Hampshire as in Iowa."

Still, while some of his rivals are largely skipping New Hampshire and heading straight to the more conservative South Carolina for its primary on Jan. 21, Santorum has made it clear he has every intention of riding his wave into New Hampshire. “Game on,” Santorum told his cheering supporters Tuesday in Iowa.

With an attentive media contingent in tow, the former Pennsylvania senator hits the ground running with a two-hour town-hall meeting Wednesday night that will be followed by at least 10 more before Tuesday’s primary. He has spent considerable time here—and has an enthusiastic corps of supporters and volunteers in place.

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"I've spent more time in New Hampshire and done more events than anybody but Jon Huntsman. And the same thing with South Carolina," he said. "We feel very, very good that we've got the organization. And money is coming in better than it's ever come in. And [after Iowa] we suspect we'll have the resources to be able not just to compete in New Hampshire, but to compete all the way through."

Indeed, his staff is banking that his Iowa success will generate ample funds and supporters to help him push forward. In addition, Santorum will generate much free media coverage.

“We know we can build on this momentum,” says Bill Cahill, a co-chair of Santorum’s New Hampshire campaign. “We’re going to make it happen with what we’ve got. We’re not going to staff up. Look, if he can come in at third place, it would be a phenomenon and spectacular. And we think we can make it happen.”

Cahill dismissed the notion that New Hampshire voters may find Santorum too socially conservative with his oppositions to abortion and same-sex marriage. “Conservatives play well in New Hampshire, and his positions on trade, tax policy, and national security are appealing. There’s a very large Catholic and ethnic populations here … The old Reagan coalition is still around for us.”