- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 8, 2013

Rick Santorum, the runner-up to Mitt Romney in the overall GOP presidential nomination battle, is back in Iowa on a three-day summer tour this week, checking to see whether he still has any of the magic that helped him win the state’s caucuses last year.

Analysts said Mr. Santorum has an opening again in 2016, though it likely will be tougher to repeat in a field expected to be much more stacked with high-profile talent and a number of folks with weighty conservative credentials.

“This time, other candidates want on Iowa’s dance card, so he’ll have to rework the same activists again,” said David Yepsen, who was a longtime politics reporter for the Des Moines Register. “They will compete for the same message. He’ll keep some of his old supporters, but he’ll have to earn that support.

“He might also have trouble keeping some or attracting others because they’ll feel he had his turn and didn’t make it and it’s time for the fresher face,” said Mr. Yepsen, who now serves as director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. “Yes, he’s got formidable competition for some of those same voters, but unlike them, he’s not starting from scratch.”

Mr. Santorum, who served two terms as a senator from Pennsylvania before losing badly in a 2006 re-election race and then launching his long-shot bid for president, surprised all sides by winning Iowa’s caucuses, narrowly topping Mr. Romney after a recount.

His Iowa win made him the leading conservative anti-Romney candidate. He went on to win the popular vote in 11 primaries and caucuses, and captured about 20 percent of all the popular vote nationwide, according to TheGreenPapers.com’s tally.

Mr. Romney’s eventual loss to President Obama in the general election left many Republicans saying they dropped back-to-back presidential races because they have nominated moderates and abandoned basic conservative principles.

Since then, a new crop of conservatives have aggressively asserted themselves on the national stage and are testing their appeal in Iowa. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky, as well as Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, have made the trek.

Over the weekend, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas will be making his second stop in as many months in Iowa. Rep. Paul Ryan, the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, is scheduled to appear at a November birthday bash for Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad.

Voters also are interested in hearing from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has led the pack in some early GOP primary polls.

Dennis J. Goldford, a politics professor at Drake University in Des Moines, said the emerging slate of candidates is more conservative than the 2012 field and that could make it harder for Mr. Santorum to expand upon his strong support among social conservatives.

“That can work to dilute some of Santorum’s support,” Mr. Goldford said, adding that Mr. Santorum may struggle to woo tea party members with the likes of Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz in the race.

But Robert L. Vander Plaats, head of the Iowa Family Leader and a Santorum backer in 2012, advises against discounting him.

“Never underestimate Rick Santorum,” Mr. Vander Plaats said. “I think people learned that in the 2012 cycle.”

Mr. Santorum overcame a financial disadvantage by visiting each Iowa county in the 2012 campaign on his way to wining the caucuses.

“Every election cycle is unique, the candidates change, the mood of the electorate swings, but remember, Rick visited all 99 counties, many of them multiple times,” said Michael Biundo, who managed Mr. Santorum’s 2012 campaign. “He didn’t win Iowa because he was the best funded, he won because he was the hardest worker. That means he has strong relationships that span the whole state. The good will he built in 2012 is transferable to 2016, in my opinion.”

Exit polls showed Mr. Santorum performed best among “very conservative” voters, tea party supporters and born-again and evangelical Christians. He also won the support of nearly 60 percent of voters who said abortion was the most important issue in the race.

Mr. Santorum has said publicly that he is “open” to running again, but his Iowa trip looks a lot like a campaign swing.

The 55-year-old planned to attend a Republican Party fundraiser Thursday, the Iowa State Fair on Friday and a gathering of social conservatives co-hosted by the Family Leader on Saturday.

Since the election, he has launched a political action committee called Patriot Voices, addressed the annual Conservative Political Action Conference and traveled to Texas to publicly show his support for the Republican-controlled Legislature’s push to pass a ban on most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Mr. Santorum used an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last weekend to knock the Obama administration’s handling of the Benghazi attacks, to embrace the National Security Agency’s collection of telephone metadata of millions of citizens and to remind voters that he is indeed eying another White House run. “I’m open to looking at a presidential race in 2016,” he said.

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