2016 Caucus

May 28th, 2015
 

Rick Santorum: Starting Over Again

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Written by: Craig Robinson
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rick santorum trifecta victory night (225)Four years ago, the DC media mocked the presidential aspirations of former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Not only did national political pundits and the media find it difficult to see a pathway to success for Santorum, most Iowa Republicans didn’t see a pathway for Santorum either.

Undeterred, Santorum fully immersed himself into Iowa. He campaigned here early and often, and at times his family would join him for an entire week. He poured everything he had into Iowa, but it wasn’t until the last days leading up to the caucuses that Iowans finally did “pick Rick.”

Santorum succeeded not because the 2012 field was weak, but because the 2012 nomination was essentially a war of attrition. Santorum’s ability to remain relevant coupled with timely victories helped him become Mitt Romney’s main opponent for the Republican nomination.

As expected, Santorum announced on Wednesday that he once again will be a candidate for president in 2016. Despite the fact that he was the runner-up to Romney in the 2012 race, Santorum begins his 2016 race not where he left off, but back at the very same spot that he entered the 2012 race. Once again Santorum is a long shot to win the Republican nomination. Once again the media and Iowans alike don’t really see a pathway to the nomination for Santorum.

There are a couple of reasons why Santorum’s prospects have not improved for the 2016 race. First and foremost, with President Obama leaving office at the end of his second term, the Republican field of candidates is as crowded and talented as it has ever been. With new faces on the scene like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Iowa caucus goers are more interested in getting to know the new faces in the race than committing to a candidate like Santorum early.

Two prominent social conservatives, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, are also making things difficult for Santorum in Iowa. Huckabee, a former caucus winner himself, didn’t squeak out a last second victory in 2008. He crushed Romney by nine points. Huckabee’s Iowa surge began late in the fall of 2007, which meant that he had to sustain his momentum through the caucuses.

While Santorum’s victory in 2012 was impressive in its own right, Huckabee accomplished something that had not happened before, a strong social conservative beat the establishment frontrunner in the caucuses handedly. The result of Huckabee’s trouncing of Romney in the 2008 Iowa caucuses was that his support was galvanized by his victory in a way that Santorum’s was not.

Call it what ever you will, unfortunate timing or bad luck, but Santorum’s standing in the race is mostly out of his control. The only way for him to deal with this problem is to once again have faith in his own abilities and work ethic. In some ways, having to prove himself all over again is a political advantage for Santorum since he doesn’t have to live up to the expectations that other former winners may have to deal with, but Iowa caucus goers and members of the media have noticed that Santorum is struggling to find his footing in a state that he previously won.

The other reason why Santorum’s 2016 prospects currently seem dim are more of his own making. Since ending his candidacy in 2012, Santorum could have chosen to grow his political operation so that it would be better prepared for the 2016 race. While he did create Patriot Voices, a grassroots organization, he did little to fix the fundraising problems that affected his campaign.

One would have also thought that a candidate who was often embarrassed by not being on the ballot in some states and congressional district would have made it a top priority to bring new people onboard to fix the structural problems that his 2012 campaign encountered. Both the fundraising and ballot access issues were big problems for Santorum as both undercut the competency of his campaign.

We are now beginning to see the ramifications of Santorum’s decision not to use the past three years to better prepare for 2016. Some key early state staffers have joined other campaigns. Santorum’s national campaign manager and New Hampshire native Mike Biundo went to work for Rand Paul last spring. It’s a loss, but nobody expects Santorum to be a strong contender in New Hampshire. It’s the recent Iowa staff losses that pack more of a sting.

Nick and Jill Ryan will both be heading up Mike Huckabee’s presidential super PAC.   Both played critical roles for Santorum in 2012. Nick Ryan helped Santorum navigate Iowa in the early days of the campaign leading up to the August Straw Poll before disassociating from the campaign to run Santorum’s super PAC. Jill Ryan, a highly skilled operative in her own right, assisted the Santorum campaign in Iowa and would later become Santorum’s national deputy campaign manager.

While the Ryans played a critical role in Santorum’s campaign, one of the most visible Iowans associated with Santorum in 2012, Chuck Laudner, has also opted to support a different candidate for 2016. Laudner, who drove Santorum around Iowa his 2006 Dodge Ram pickup – dubbed by Santorum as the “Chuck Truck” – is now leading Donald Trump’s efforts in Iowa.

While Laudner didn’t provide Santorum with the structural things a campaign needs, he was a constant voice in the candidate’s ear. Besides providing the candidate transportation, Laudner was part sounding board and part pitching coach. His job was to keep Santorum positive and upbeat. The loosely configured Santorum campaign worked well in Iowa, but he would ultimately succumb to Romney’s well-financed national campaign apparatus and Super PAC.

Winning back-to-back contested caucuses has never been done before. The only candidate who has won the caucuses twice is Bob Dole, who won in 1988 and 1996. John Edwards has two second place finishes to his name in 2004 and 2008. It’s not the long odds that are problematic for Santorum, it’s that critical pieces of his Iowa infrastructure have moved on to other campaigns.

Santorum has been making the case that, in the past 50 years, Republicans have only ever nominated former or current Vice Presidents, the son of a president, or those who were the runners-up for the nomination in the previous cycle. It’s obvious why Santorum would make his case that way. Anyone in his position would do the same thing.

If past caucuses have taught us anything, it’s that you should never crown a caucus winner nine months out from caucus day. Santorum’s road in Iowa this cycle is really no different than it was in 2012. While it must be frustrating to have to start all over again, if anyone can overcome the many obstacles that lay in front of him, it’s Santorum.

Santorum is in a tricky spot. There really isn’t anything he can do to change his circumstances over night. I don’t know if many candidates would have stuck with it like Santorum did in 2012. And even though he has experienced some significant defections in a key state like Iowa, when it comes to personal attributes of a candidate like, work ethic, dedication, and blind faith, Santorum is unmatched.

If Jeb Bush believes that he may have to be willing to lose the primary in order to win the 2016 general election, then Rick Santorum’s strategy may be that he has to go small to win big. Santorum, despite being the winner of the 2012 Iowa caucuses, once again finds himself as a big underdog to win Iowa, let alone the Republican nomination for president in 2016. Yet his willingness to campaign in every nook and cranny might once again be the recipe for success for Santorum in 2016 just like it was in 2012.

It’s not a strategy that makes for interesting books or movies, but Santorum’s prowess and game plan of staying under the radar and focusing on meeting with voters in small groups may allow Santorum to once again outlast and outperform the crowded Republican presidential field.

 

Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com


About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of TheIowaRepublican.com, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and TheIowaRepublican.com as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, TheIowaRepublcian.com. Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.




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