- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Former Sen. Rick Santorum ground out a victory in Iowa’s 2012 GOP presidential caucuses by visiting all 99 of the state’s counties, but he’s not ready to commit to a repeat if he runs in 2016 after learning that living off the land in the first primary isn’t enough to build a campaign that can win the nomination.

Mr. Santorum wants to build a more robust political operation that his allies say could help him recreate some of his 2012 Iowa magic while also prepare for a drawn-out nomination fight.

Political observers, though, say Mr. Santorum’s path to victory is complicated.

“If he doesn’t do well in Iowa, then it will be hard for him to do well nationally. But if he spends all his time in Iowa and doesn’t devote resources to those other early states, it also could be hard for him to push forward,” said Christopher B. Budzisz, political science professor at Loras College in Iowa. “So it is somewhat of a Catch-22.”

The former two-term Pennsylvania senator still enjoys a deep reservoir of good will among likely caucusgoers, but many of those are unlikely to automatically line up behind him in what’s looking like a far stronger and more crowded 2016 field, including other claimants to the social conservative crown.



“He is endeared out here — people like him,” said Iowa state Rep. Walt Rogers, who endorsed Mr. Santorum in 2012. “But there is always a question of: Is this a guy who can take it all the way?

“This time around, I am watching to see if [anyone] else emerges that is similar to Rick, who potentially could be more viable in the long run,” Mr. Rogers said.

A number of Mr. Santorum’s backers say they’re open to another bid but also want to meet the other candidates before lining up.

Potential rivals include first-timers Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, plus repeat-Iowa competitors such as former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the 2008 caucuses and could compete with Mr. Santorum for the social conservatives who powered his 2012 campaign.

Rick Halvorsen, chairman of the Warren County GOP — and who supported Mr. Santorum in 2012 and Mr. Huckabee in 2008 — said he is leaning toward supporting a governor this time around, though he still “holds a warm spot for [Mr. Santorum] in my heart.”

“I think Rick Santorum won the hearts and minds of a lot of Iowans the last time by doing the 99-county tour and meeting a lot of caucusgoers around the state,” Mr. Halvorsen said. “If he comes across the same way he did last time, he will win support here in Iowa.”

Mr. Santorum is investing serious time in the state. After last month’s Iowa Freedom Summit, other candidates left for home, but Mr. Santorum hung around the state for four more days, making another half-dozen stops.

Since 2013 Mr. Santorum and Mr. Perry have made nine visits to the state, more than anyone else, according to a tally from Democracy in Action. He will return for the Iowa Agricultural Summit in March.

John Brabender, a longtime Santorum consultant, said it is unclear whether Mr. Santorum would visit every county again.

“Last time, we could look at Iowa, and we really couldn’t look at everywhere else,” Mr. Brabender said. “It was like we were building a car as it went down the street. We had the tires and the steering wheel, but not much else. This time we can build the car before the campaign starts.”

Mr. Santorum shocked the political world in 2012 by winning the Iowa caucuses. He went on to win a total of 11 states, receiving a financial boost from Foster Friess, the multimillionaire who helped finance a pro-Santorum super PAC.

The Santorum campaign, however, fell apart at times, including in Virginia, where the ex-senator failed to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot, essentially ceding the state to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the eventual Republican nominee.

Since then, Mr. Santorum became CEO of EchoLight Studios, a conservative film studio, and remained a familiar face as conservative gatherings. He also released two books “Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America That Works” and “Bella’s Gift: How One Little Girl Transformed Our Family and Inspired a Nation,” which is about their daughter who was born with Trisomy 18, chromosomal abnormality.

Moving forward, Mr. Brabender said the campaign has the organization this time to get on every ballot. And Mr. Santorum also has established a political action committee, Patriot Voices, which has allowed him to build a network of donors he could turn to in a presidential campaign. Plus, Mr. Friess is still on board.

Mr. Brabender said voters now know Mr. Santorum, and that will make it easier for him to sidestep the media’s attempts to pigeonhole him as just a social conservative. The consultant said Mr. Santorum’s populist message will resonate with tea partyers and middle-class families, and his foreign policy views are what defense-minded voters want.

“Rick probably has more foreign policy experience than maybe all the other candidates combined,” Mr. Brabender said.

Mr. Santorum is running last in the latest RealClearPolitics average of national polls, and a Des Moines Register poll released last week showed him running near the back of the pack.

But the Register poll also found that 57 percent of caucusgoers view him in a favorable light, which his supporters say is why he will be a force in the primaries.

“I think he is in a good spot here,” said Karen Fesler, an Iowa activist and 2012 supporter. “People are going to kick the tires, and they are going to take a look at the lot of people, but, at the end of the day, a lot of those people are going to come back to him.”

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