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The Gazette KCRG
Posted January 4, 2012
Santorum aided by grit, determination and volunteers

DES MOINES – Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s surprise near-victory in Tuesday’s caucuses by far tops Mike Huckabee’s feat in defeating former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney four years ago because his political cyclone came from nowhere in a compressed time span.

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is joined by his wife Karen as he waves to supporters at his Iowa caucus victory party Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012, in Johnston, Iowa. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

“It shatters that one,” Chuck Laudner, a former Iowa GOP leader who backed Santorum, said of the senator’s meteoric rise from single-digit polling in December to a photo finish that saw Romney win by a scant eight-vote margin.

“The Huckabee thing will be quickly forgotten. Years and years from now they’ll be talking about the Santorum surge rather than the Huckaboom,” Laudner noted. “It eclipses that. Huckabee was growing for more than a month and that became a two-way race. Huckabee came back from second place to beat Mitt Romney. Santorum came from dead last. It’s an incredible feat.”

Observers said Santorum’s unexpected vault to the top of the 2012 GOP presidential field was a testament to the power of grit, determination and retail politicking in a campaign season already marred by negative attacks that promises to get even nastier as the focus moves out of Iowa.

“Every vote counts,” Gov. Terry Branstad said just hours after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was officially declared the winner of Iowa’s 2012 precinct caucuses by eight votes over Santorum – who languished in single-digit poll numbers for most of the campaign. “Rick Santorum deserves a tremendous amount of credit. He did it the old fashioned way.”

Even though Romney was the winner, Santorum emerged as the candidate with momentum after a come-from-nowhere that Bob Vander Plaats of the Family Leader attributed to a “perfect storm” of issue positions, likeability and relentless campaigning through 381 events in all 99 Iowa counties that succeeded in coalescing support from key social and evangelical activists who swarmed precinct sites on Santorum’s behalf across a major portion of the state.

“Santorum came out of Iowa with a ton of momentum and a huge surge going into New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida,” said Vander Plaats, who voted party “stalwarts” who have been sitting on the fence will step forward now to help focus the GOP presidential nominating process into a two-man race where a true full-spectrum conservative can counter Romney’s hope for keeping the field fragmented.

Chuck Laudner, a former Iowa GOP leader who backed Santorum, said the Pennsylvania senator stuck with his plan and did the retail politicking that builds the trust and respect that you need to sway undecided voters to join your cause.

“Trust is a very important word in a caucus,” said Laudner, who credited endorsements from Vander Plaats and others with helping Santorum clear the last hurdle of viability that succeeded in bringing the networks of conservative activists to many of the 1,774 precinct meetings.

“Once they saw the viability question erode, they were more than happy to jump on board,” Laudner said. “Something special was being built and they were more than happy to jump on board because they liked Rick Santorum all along.”
Vander Plaats said his endorsement gave Santorum the stamp of credibility and authenticity that people were looking for but it was the candidate’s team and army of volunteers that carried the day.

Cody Brown, Santorum’s Iowa campaign manager, said the campaign had amassed 1,400 to 1,500 caucus captains and the late-breaking momentum was driven in part by its organization.

“They had their packets and they were making their closing arguments,” said Brown, who noted the campaign felt the ground moving prior to the Christmas holiday season.

“We anticipated a move all along. It was a question of when and how much,” he said. It was the high number of undecided voters and the organization the campaign put in place that gave it confidence, he said.

Now that Santorum has momentum, Vander Platts said he should not sit back as he moves to New Hampshire because he expects Romney and the Super PACs working on his behalf will turn their guns on the Pennsylvania senator like they successfully did against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in Iowa.

“He needs to be on permanent offense. He has to play this one to win. If he does, I think things will come out very, very well for him,” Vander Plaats said. “I’m sure the Super PACS, Mitt Romney — they’re going to come after Rick Santorum relentlessly. I just think he’s going to be able to withstand that kind of a vetting. He’s been pretty solid all the way through. He doesn’t have a lot of that baggage that they can go after.”

The prospects for an increasingly negative campaign were on a lot of people’s minds as the presidential race moved to New Hampshire, where Romney said he expects to be the target as that state’s current front-runner.

“I know there’s going to be a lot of attacks coming my way. I’ve got a pretty big target on myself, but I’ve got broad shoulders. I’m ready for it,” said Romney during televised interviews before he left Iowa.

“It’s a long road ahead. I’m hoping to do well but it felt very good last night when the final votes came in,” he added. “I’ve been building a national campaign and I’ve been building a national campaign that will help me down the road and also help me if I’m the nominee because I know we’re going to face an extraordinary onslaught from President Obama.”

David Axelrod, Obama for America senior strategist, said the Iowa results show that Romney is “still the 25 percent man” who leaves Iowa as a weak front-runner in a GOP nominating process that may last awhile.

“Gov. Romney won the Iowa caucuses by eight votes in part because he called in the air force in the form of his Super PAC to carpet bomb Newt Gingrich in what undoubtedly the most brutal and negative campaign that Iowa has seen in these presidential caucuses. It was very effective,” said Axelrod, who noted Romney left telling people he hadn’t focused on Santorum yet. “You can read that as a dog whistle to the folks back in the laboratory at the Super PAC and you can expect that they will be unleashing a torrent on Sen. Santorum.”

Branstad said he doesn’t like negative campaigning but it was effective against some candidates during the Iowa campaign. He said the best way to combat it is to make your case in face-to-face campaigning with voters so when they later hear the attacks, they won’t ring true. “If they don’t know you, they might be inclined to believe it,” he said.

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