Politics

03.25.12

After Rick Santorum Takes Louisiana, Wisconsin Looms as His Last Stand

Wisconsin looms as Rick Santorum’s last chance to remain relevant.

Rick Santorum’s easy win in Louisiana Saturday night was expected, but it means there’s at least one more critical contest to come before Mitt Romney can functionally wrap up the Republican nomination.

Santorum held his election-night event Saturday at a brewpub in Green Bay, a location that is about as Wisconsin as it gets. Louisiana, said Santorum, made a “very clear and crisp statement. You don’t believe that this race is over. You didn’t get the memo.” Comparing himself to Ronald Reagan, who forced the party’s last floor fight in 1976, despite establishment pressure for him to drop out and concede to the party’s eventual nominee, President Gerald Ford, Santorum said he was concerned with “something more than the party: standing up for principles that will heal this country, that will bring us back together.”

A Santorum win in Wisconsin—where the most recent poll, from Rasmussen, shows Romney with a 13-point lead, but where Santorum was ahead in two February polls—nine days from now would revitalize the race. The contest comes at a crucial moment—before what Santorum chief strategist John Brabender has optimistically called “halftime,” a three-week gap in the race without a single election. A win going into that hiatus would help Santorum claim momentum and credibility and refocus the race. It would shift the narrative back toward the delegate-counting stories his campaign has been pushing to no avail lately as Romney has built on what appears to be an insurmountable lead. And after narrow losses in Ohio and Michigan, beating Romney in Wisconsin would demonstrate that Santorum has nationwide appeal.

Returns showed Newt Gingrich mired in third place, out of the delegate hunt. Nonetheless, he indicated he would press on, even as his campaign slipped from long shot to outright quixotic.

And Romney? He went to the movies Saturday afternoon with his grandchildren in California. Romney was on the West Coast visiting his La Jolla home and preparing for a stretch of fundraisers this week to bolster his cash advantage, which so far has given him a 75-to-1 advantage in spending on Wisconsin’s airwaves. Saturday’s second-place finish in Louisiana was only the slightest setback for Romney, while a loss in Wisconsin would force his campaign to endure another long, potentially perilous detour through delegate math.