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
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,
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.