Bob Vander Plaats endorses Santorum. Does it matter?

Could the Rick Santorum surge actually happen?


U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum listens to a question during a campaign stop at the Principal Financial Group in Des Moines, Iowa. (JIM YOUNG/REUTERS)

Santorum is still a longshot to win thr rapidly-approaching Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, and a long, long, longshot to win the GOP presidential nomination.

The most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll of likely caucus-goers, taken from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4, showed him at 7 percent, which amounted to sixth place. He’d raised only $1.3 million by the end of the third quarter, less than any other Republican candidate.

One of the biggest obstacles for Santorum is the perception that he can’t win against President Obama — after all, he lost his last election to the Senate in 2006 by 18 points.

But in a year where Texas Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) might come out on top, a Santorum surge is possible.

While Vander Plaats’ group decided to stay neutral, his personal endorsement carries weight. Hurley was part of discussions among evangelicals to coalesce around a candidate who could beat former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

A deluge of negative ads have been chipping away at former House speaker Newt Gingrich, and evangelical leaders have not warmed to the thrice-married candidate.

“I think it shows that we’re the candidate right now,” Santorum told reporters after Tuesday’s endorsements.

He was, of course, speaking from Iowa. Santorum has visited all 99 counties in the state; he has held over 350 events there.

Santorum’s Iowa investment appears to have paid off. Like former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee in 2008, who surged out of seemingly nowhere to win the caucuses, Santorum has been steadily winning the support of evangelical pastors and other prominent Republicans in the state. (In his endorsment, Vander Plaats called Santorum “the Huckabee in this race.”)

Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz backed Santorum last week, along with two politically-active evangelical pastors. In November, he got the backing of Chuck Laudner, the former chief of staff to Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).

Unlike Huckabee, Santorum appears to have a decent organization in Iowa, with field representatives all over the state.

However, as of mid-November only 31 percent of likely caucus-goers told the Des Moines Register they had been contacted by Santorum’s campaign. (Compare that to 61 percent who were touched by Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.)

And not all evangelical leaders have rallied behind Santorum — some are supporting Bachmann or Texas Gov. Rick Perry. “If the entire Christian commuinity were united around a candidate, that might create a synergy for that candidate, but that’s not the case,” said strategist Steve Grubbs, a strategist and former Iowa Republican Party chairman. “It’s a splintered universe of evangelical leaders.”

Santorum likely won’t finish in the top three candidates on Jan. 3. But he could outperform the (very low) expectations set for him — and shed a bit of the stigma that lingers from his 2006 Senate loss.

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.

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