wpostServer: http://css.washingtonpost.com/wpost2
Posted at 11:29 AM ET, 02/21/2012

In Santorum-Romney battle, it’s organization vs. enthusiasm

In the race between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) and former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), there are plenty of contrasts.

Former state executive vs. former member of Congress; a focus on hot-button social issues vs. an emphasis on economic leadership.

But the most relevant contrast might be this one: campaign organization vs. grass-roots enthusiasm.

There’s no question that Romney holds the advantage when it comes to the former. In Michigan, as in virtually every state where he’s competed in the GOP presidential primary, the son of the Wolverine State has an organization that is both deep and broad, comprising scores of endorsements from state and local officials and an operation that he put to work in the state’s primary four years ago.

Santorum, by contrast, still lacks a national campaign headquarters, has no plans to hire a pollster and has a Michigan operation headed by a “volunteer statewide grass-roots coordinator.”

As recently as a month ago, Santorum’s online presence in the state was limited to a single “Michigan for Rick Santorum” Facebook page maintained by a western Michigan man who described his work on the page as “a hobby.”

What Santorum lacks in organization, however, he makes up for in campaign-trail hustle.

While Romney held only one event Monday, for instance, Santorum barnstormed Michigan, holding a trio of events in the western part of the state — and that was on the heels of an earlier visit to eastern Ohio.

Santorum’s supporters, too, exude an enthusiasm that Romney’s tend to lack. And adding to Romney’s worries is the fact that many backers of former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) now appear to be flocking to the Santorum campaign as the momentum in the race shifts.

Next week’s Michigan primary, then, will be not only pit one candidate against another, but it will also be a test of pure grass-roots appeal vs. a more-traditional campaign infrastructure.

And if Santorum manages to eke out a win in Romney’s home state, it will largely have been despite his campaign infrastructure, not because of it.

Rep. Bill Huizenga (R), a freshman congressman from western Michigan and a Romney supporter, acknowledged in an interview after a Santorum appearance at the Kent County Lincoln Day Dinner in Grand Rapids that all year long, “clearly there’s an element out there that’s looking for an alternative” to Romney.

“It started with Donald Trump and went to Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain and Rick Perry,” Huizenga said. “But at the same time, I think if you look and if you’re honest with yourself, the person who’s had the most vetting of all of these issues is Governor Romney. If there’s anything out there, it’s out there.”

But he also predicted, “I think that you’re going to see Romney coming back strong.”

“He has needed to work,” he said of Romney. “That’s good. Coming back and working in Michigan is not a bad thing. Four years ago, I was chairman of the second district party and had stayed neutral because of the bylaws of the party and that kind of thing. But I can tell you, it was even more of a rigorous campaign happening four years ago than there is now. And everybody was working like crazy.”

Santorum told Republicans in Grand Rapids on Monday night that “obviously, this has been quite a roller-coaster ride for us, and things are going well for us. We’re out and we’re talking about a positive message.

“You have an opportunity here in conservative western Michigan to talk and speak loudly about what this country needs,” he told the crowd.

By  |  11:29 AM ET, 02/21/2012

 
Read what others are saying
     

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company