The day after a really bad debate, Rick Santorum was nowhere to be found. At least not in public. That ceded the media terrain to his opponents, and it might have left some with the impression he was off nursing his wounds.
Actually, the Dallas Morning News explained that he was in Texas raising money. “Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was in Dallas this morning for a campaign fundraiser. . . . The event was closed to the press. After navigating into the main entrance of the club, I was asked to turn my car around and leave. The guys at the checkpoint were nice about it. Santorum is also expected for an event in Westlake. He’ll probably meet with potential donors. Texas is one of the great ATMs of American politics.” Where was Romney? Bashing Santorum in Arizona and rallying with Tea Partyers in Michigan. The Post’s Phil Rucker reported that the large crowd Thursday night was particularly enthusiastic. (“A standard Romney line — “I believe in America” — that usually gets little response draws a standing ovation at [the] Michigan tea party rally.”)
In fact, after declaring on Feb. 15 that he was going to plant his flag in Michigan, Santorum has spent a great deal of time elsewhere. He’s been in Idaho, Washington, Ohio, Georgia, North Dakota and Arizona. On Saturday, he will be spending time in Tennessee. He was in Michigan on Monday, but before that he was last there for a single event last Friday.
Certainly, candidates are having to play in multiple states, and they don’t want to lose track of Super Tuesday contests. But consider how Romney has spent his time. Before the final push over the past few weeks, Romney made three trips to Michigan. Today will be his fifth day in the state since mid-month, and he will be there on Saturday and Sunday. Today, he has a mass rally and speech at Ford Field. In addition, Ann Romney has been in the state several times.
Maybe this won’t make any difference in the outcome of the race. But since Santorum was the one to lay down the marker in Michigan, it seems a risky proposition not to maximize his time there. It’s not simply the people who show up at events who matter; the earned media (generally less critical than national media) amplify those appearances and can get the buzz going.
This is where organization and a prior run for the presidency really come in handy. On the day after arguably the biggest debate in the GOP race and several days before critical primaries, Santorum was behind closed doors, raising money; Romney was revving up crowds. On such seemingly small matters sometimes lies the difference between winning and losing.