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Right Turn
Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 01/11/2012

Santorum can surge again

There is plenty Rick Santorum can learn from his disappointing finish in New Hampshire. Heading into South Carolina he needs to put the loss behind him but take in lessons about advertising, message and focus.

In New Hampshire, Santorum was invisible on the air. His super PAC is already up in South Carolina, but he’ll need to spend directly to compete with the avalanche of ads coming from Mitt Romney. The good news is that the Newt Gingrich super PAC campaign is so counterproductive that it undermines Gingrich’s claim to be a movement conservative, leaving Santorum to claim the spot. The bad news is that it may generate more support for Romney.

Jennifer Rubin live chatted with readers on this topic. Read the chat transcript now.

More important, Santorum needs to refine his message of economic growth and traditional values. South Carolina has plenty of evangelical voters, but the secret of his success in Iowa was pairing up a hopeful economic message of inclusiveness with a strong pro-life and family appeal. The state is too big to knock on every door, and time is too limited to spend hours on tangential issues. He needs a crisp, clear enunciation of his economic plan, an argument for his electability and an argument as to why he is ideologically more representative of the party than Romney. And then he needs to repeat all of that over and over again.

He’s got the economic plan; he just needs everyone in South Carolina to know what’s in it. He can talk about his grandfather and his desire for upward mobility a little, but then he’s got to put meat on the bones. If he can’t frame his plan in a 90-second interview response or a 60-second debate answer he’s in trouble.

His electability argument, which he began to sketch out last night, is this: Only he can energize and unite the party and then bring in voters in Rust Belt states and, more generally, working-class people (although he doesn’t like using “class”). This was the demographic that Tim Pawlenty tried to reach — the workers in “strong back” jobs and the middle-income Americans who are falling behind. It’s not surprising that Santorum has begun to refer directly to those voters. (“We are Sam’s Club and Costco folks, ” he told voters about his own family.)

He also needs to focus on the differences between him and Romney that really matter. They are both resolute on Iran and, frankly, voters don’t care if Santorum was on the Senate Armed Services Committee years ago. What is significant is the difference in their tax plans and their track records on health care. It’s wasted time to quibble with Romney as to whether he was a “manager” or a “leader.” When Santorum engages Romney he’s got to make it count and make it on substance.

His task in South Carolina is made easier by Gingrich’s self-inflicted wounds and Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s increasingly pathetic campaign. It is becoming easier to argue that Santorum is the last consistent conservative rival to Romney.

And while his showing in New Hampshire isn’t what he wanted it to be, he will surely improve his standing in South Carolina, where Jon Huntsman is a non-factor and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) has less appeal. If he gets ahead of Paul, Gingrich, Huntsman and Perry (which is very doable), he’ll have the “Santorum comes roaring back” headlines that he’ll need to stay in the mix.

By  |  10:00 AM ET, 01/11/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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