- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rick Santorum is casting his fight with Mitt Romney as a “David-versus-Goliath” battle — but from failing to get his name on ballots to coming up short on raising cash, the Republican presidential contender deserves at least part of the blame for his underfunded, underdog campaign, political observers say.

Santorum is the ‘David’ largely because he can’t raise money and he doesn’t have a big enough staff to cover the country,” said John Feehery, a GOP strategist. “Romney is the Goliath because he has been working at this for seven years, because he has been able to raise money and because he has been very methodical in his approach.”

In several states, the former senator from Pennsylvania has struggled to meet basic requirements, losing out on valuable delegates as a result.

He failed to qualify for the ballot in Washington, D.C., and in his adopted home state of Virginia — greasing the wheels for front-runner Mitt Romney to snag 43 of the 46 delegates on the table in the Old Dominion, padding the former Massachusetts governor’s pledged delegate lead ahead of the Republican National Convention in August.

Mr. Santorum also forfeited as many as four delegates in Ohio, including in the congressional district where he held his election night party, after failing to file full slates of delegates in some congressional districts.

A similar story is playing out in Illinois, which holds its primary next week.

Gov. Romney, Rep. [Ron] Paul and former Speaker [Newt] Gingrich all have a full slate of delegates across the state’s 18 congressional districts. So potentially they could have a full batch of 54 delegates,” said Ken Menzel, of the Illinois State Board of Elections. “Former Sen. Santorum does not have full slates of delegates in four of the 18 congressional districts, such that his maximum take is 44.”

The Santorum campaign’s shortcomings also could cost the candidate one delegate in Alabama, where he won a close primary race on Tuesday.

“What we learned is what we already knew — that several months ago when the Santorum campaign organization was very thin and his campaign appeared to be going nowhere, it did not pay as much attention as it should have to delegates,” said Paul Allen Beck, an Ohio State University political science professor.

“His failure to qualify for the ballot in Virginia, for the same reasons, was much more costly. He could have won a plurality of popular votes and delegates there, denying Romney the trophy as the Super Tuesday victor, however marginal.”

The failure also has opened the Santorum campaign up for attacks from the Romney camp.

“The fact that Sen. Santorum cannot complete the simple tasks that are required to win the Republican nomination proves that he is incapable of taking on President Obama’s formidable political machine,” said Andrea Saul, a Romney spokeswoman. “It also raises questions in voters’ minds about how he would be able to execute as president.”

Early in the race, Mr. Santorum poured much of his campaign cash and time into the Iowa caucuses — a strategy that paid off with a solid bounce out of his eventual victory there, but also left him playing catch-up in some of the other early primary and caucus states.

“If you start out primary season trying to catch up, it is very difficult to actually do so when the guy you are trying to catch keeps winning, is on all the ballots across the country and has more financial latitude,” said Josh Putnam, an assistant professor at Davidson College who studies presidential primaries and writes the blog FrontloadingHQ.

“Front-runners are not infallible, but they are very hard to catch up to on the fly. And problems like Santorum not being on or fully on ballots is just giving delegates away in a delegate fight he is already losing by quite a lot.”

Still, despite being dramatically outspent by the Romney campaign and its super PAC allies, Mr. Santorum is putting up a fight. His weekend win in Kansas’ caucuses catapulted him ahead of Mr. Gingrich and into second place in the race for the 1,144 delegates needed to snag the nomination, bolstering the Santorum argument that he is the strongest conservative alternative to Mr. Romney.

He carried that momentum into Tuesday, when more than 100 delegates were up for grabs in Alabama, where he won again, and in Mississippi, where he was leading late Tuesday night. There were also caucuses in Hawaii and American Samoa.

The Santorum camp, though, has signaled that it is aware it may have to settle for blocking Mr. Romney from getting to 1,144 delegates.

If Mr. Romney falls short, Team Santorum argues that many of the uncommitted delegates will swing toward their man at the convention.

But folks on the ground say Mr. Santorum isn’t doing the kind of legwork required to make that long-shot strategy work. In Iowa, where he narrowly won the caucuses, locals say they haven’t heard from the Santorum campaign lately.

“It’s like an apparition,” said Kevin McLaughlin, of the Polk County, Iowa, GOP. “He was here and now he is gone. I mean, there are people who are still here and support him, but I don’t get anything like the organized depth I see out of the Ron Paul people.”