Biundo: Ready For NH

Additional polls out of Iowa today add to the quickly developing sense that maybe, just maybe, long-shot Rick Santorum will be the conservative alternative who emerges from Tuesday's caucuses.

But I keep hearing that the former Pennsylvania Senator would have no staying power in the race, primarily because he will, of course, be barely a blip in New Hampshire the following week -- if he even bothers to compete there -- and suffer the same momentum-killing fate as Mike Huckabee four years ago.

“Even the momentum from winning Iowa in 2008 was only enough to push Mike Huckabee to 11% in New Hampshire,” the Public Policy Polling (PPP) firm opined in reporting its latest Granite State numbers today, “so it seems doubtful that a 2nd or 3rd place finish in the state would get Santorum into contention in the Granite State.”

Don't be so sure.

I spoke this evening with Santorum campaign manager Michael Biundo. Biundo is a New Hampshire guy. He took Frank Giunta from obscurity to Congress. For a time he headed a coalition of grassroots conservative groups in the state. Back in the day, he was part of the team that helped Pat Buchanan win the ’96 primary.

He knows New Hampshire, is what I’m saying.

Biundo tells me that, in addition to some endorsements in New Hampshire, “we’ve had key people, in key communities, talking to people. We’ve done the ID work, done the calls, had people going door-to-door, been visible at all the Republican events.”

In short, all the things Huckabee didn’t do before winning Iowa.

As it happens, I had a conversation about this exact topic with Biundo, eight months ago.

Back then Biundo was working for Santorum's Political Action Committee (he became national campaign manager in October). He was one of several Granite State GOP operatives who told me at the time that their potential 2012 candidates fully understood the lesson of Huckabee '08: there is too much time between Iowa and South Carolina, with nothing but New Hampshire in the news, to be absent from that contest. And, you can't just show up in New Hampshire on January 4 touting your Iowa success – you have to lay the groundwork for months in advance.

I was actually a little surprised at the time; I thought perhaps the other candidates would skip New Hampshire, to spin Romney’s win there as a meaningless, uncontested, home-state victory. But that was not the attitude. Even if they couldn’t hope to beat Romney there, they said, a candidate lucky enough to get a ticket out of Iowa had to do battle in New Hampshire, and hope for a decent showing.

“Some of the experts said we should skip New Hampshire and go straight to South Carolina,” Biundo says now, but Santorum has agreed from the beginning to contest the state.

Of course, he is currently at a sorrowful three percent in that PPP New Hampshire polls. But Biundo says the campaign’s voter calls suggest that Santorum is the second choice of many there. Interest in him should go up with the current boomlet. He has also reportedly just placed his first New Hampshire television ads. If he’s the big story out of Iowa next week, not only will that interest increase exponentially – along with campaign funding -- but it’s very likely that the competing right-of-Romney candidacies of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich will be rapidly deflating, if not entirely gone. (And New Hampshire has a lot more staunch pro-life Republicans than many people realize.)

And, presumably, Biundo will know exactly how to maximize a post-Iowa barnstorming of the Granite State: where to go, who to appear with, how to draw a crowd, and so on.

This wouldn’t be Huckabee redux.

Of course, the New Hampshire voters might not like him. Or, he may not stand up to the media scrutiny and Romney attack ads. But one thing he won’t be is a non-story.

There is even, dare I suggest it, a not-totally-crazy argument to be made that he could win the nomination – if, as I say, he really does break out in Iowa next Tuesday and survives the subsequent high-intensity vetting.

After all, I was once convinced that Tim Pawlenty would win the nomination if he won Iowa, and Santorum really isn’t all that wildly different from T-Paw.

I have previously speculated that in a potential “long siege” delegate-counting nomination battle, Romney would presumably win the Northeast and the West, while the conservative opponent would take the South and Midwest. Such a nomination contest would likely be decided, I said, in the states stretching through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Santorum’s a Pennsylvanian who went to high school in Illinois; I think he can play in those states.

That scenario is still a stretch at this point, even if he does ride high out of Iowa. But at the same time, I would caution those expecting Santorum’s campaign to die in New Hampshire to rethink that assumption.


| More

 Friends' Activity   Popular 
All Blogs
Follow the Phoenix
  • newsletter
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • youtube
  • rss
Latest Comments
Search Blogs
Talking Politics Archives