1. Florida Politics

Rick Santorum's new challenge: money and organization

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Published Jan. 5, 2012


Rick Santorum, the surprise darling of the Iowa caucus, pivoted to New Hampshire on Wednesday and asserted himself as anything but a fluke.

"Vote for someone that America needs at a time when America needs fundamental change," Santorum told an overflow crowd of several hundred people in Brentwood. "Don't settle for someone who can win, but can't do, won't do, or has no track record of doing."

But while Iowans turned the race for the GOP presidential nomination into him versus Mitt Romney, Santorum has to overcome glaring deficits in what will matter from here on out: organization and money.

And he has little time to do it. New Hampshire holds its primary Tuesday, followed by South Carolina on Jan. 21. Florida goes 10 days after that.

"The reason Rick Santorum did so well in Iowa was because he moved his family there and camped out for most of the year, but he does not have a national infrastructure,'' said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, chairman of Romney's Florida campaign. "Romney's in a great spot. He'll come out of the first two early states potentially as the first guy ever to win both, and he will have tremendous momentum as he moves south."

Santorum was running fifth, with a meager 6 percent of the vote, in the latest New Hampshire poll, though his Iowa finish will give him a boost. But Romney has a double-digit lead buttressed by advertising, a big staff, top endorsements and the benefit of hailing from neighboring Massachusetts.

For all of Romney's confidence, Tuesday's eight-vote victory over Santorum revealed misgivings conservative voters have with Romney and a willingness to go with their heart rather than the candidate who is supposedly the most electable.

"There is no doubt that organizing and getting on the airwaves is the hill we have to climb," said Chuck Laudner, a top Santorum adviser in Iowa. "But it's possible because Rick Santorum has shed the anchor that held him down, and that was his viability in the eyes of voters."

Santorum still has a shot at an upset, odds that were helped by Michele Bachmann exiting Wednesday. But he was hurt by Rick Perry's surprise decision to keep going, an effort that will focus on the same disaffected conservatives as Santorum.

There's also Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich, who finished third and fourth respectively. Jon Huntsman did not compete in Iowa so he could focus on New Hampshire.

The candidates will face each other in debates Saturday and Sunday in New Hampshire.

Gingrich was on an angry tear, still fuming from the negative ads that a pro-Romney "super PAC" ran against him in Iowa.

After an education forum in Concord, Gingrich made it clear he would not hesitate to rip the front-runner Romney.

"I find it amazing the news media continues to say he's the most electable Republican when he can't even break out in his own party. . . . The fact is three out of four Republicans rejected" his campaign, the former House speaker said.

Gingrich spoke highly of Bachmann, predicting a bright political future for her, but made a point of not congratulating Romney. He said he expected Bachmann's conservative supporters would likely split between him and Santorum.

"Gov. Romney was first a independent; then repudiated Reagan-Bush; then voted for Paul Tsongas, the most liberal candidate in the 1992 campaign; then ran to the left of Teddy Kennedy in 1994; then became a moderate to run for governor in 2002," Gingrich said, continuing to rip the Massachusetts health care plan adopted under Romney that served as a model for Obama's health care law.

"The contrast will be very wide and that will be a key part of what we describe going forward."

Santorum kept out of public view Wednesday before his evening town hall at a Brentwood nursing home. He held 380 town halls across Iowa, but there is no time for that brand of retail politics in New Hampshire.

"The difference here is he's going to have to raise money. Clear the checks, buy TV time, hire a staff. That is a very, very challenging thing," said Patrick Griffin, a longtime political strategist who is not working for one of the campaigns.

Another challenge is New Hampshire voters tend to care less about the social conservative issues that are Santorum's strength. He talks about the economy and fiscal restraint, but those are the hallmarks of Romney's message.

"I would run as Mr. Rogers," Griffin said. "This is the guy in a sweater vest. This is the guy who doesn't have a campaign bus."

Santorum spent the past few weeks riding around in a Ram pickup owned by Laudner, his Iowa adviser. Laudner said he's going to drive the truck to South Carolina and Florida to help rally the conservative vote.

"I think we can do a lot of work in a short amount of time," he said.

Santorum spokesman Matt Beynon said fundraising has been rolling in since the candidate began to surge last week. Santorum raised $1 million on Wednesday, aides said.

The money and organization challenge grows in South Carolina and is most distinct in Florida, where expensive TV ads help sway the vote. Romney already is advertising in both states.

Asked if he had a Florida plan, Beynon replied, "We're trying to build that out now."

Romney made his first post-Iowa stop at a Manchester high school gymnasium, with a sedate crowd of roughly 300 students and supporters not exactly signaling a triumphant favorite son.

He was joined by Arizona Sen. John McCain, who beat Romney for the nomination in 2008 and is backing him this year.

"It is with some nostalgia that I return to this place that I love so well, but I am really here for one reason and one reason only and that is that we make Mitt Romney the next president of the United States of America," said McCain, predicting New Hampshire would "catapult" Romney to the nomination.

Santorum's rise will bring more scrutiny of his record and quite likely the same negative attacks Romney's allies used to undercut Gingrich.

"There's nothing worse than a child star who gets discovered and suddenly becomes famous and is abused by Hollywood producers. See Lindsay Lohan," Griffin said. "You have to be ready for your close up."