GOP presidential race enters national phase

at 06:30 AM ET, 02/13/2012

The Republican presidential race enters a new phase today: A distinctly national one.

While the first month-plus of the GOP contest has been handled mostly one state at a time and has been dominated by some of the smaller states in the union, the next phase brings the race into bigger states holding their contests on the same day as one another.
Republican presidential candidates, from left, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former House speaker Newt Gingrich pose for a photo at the start of the South Carolina Republican presidential candidate debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in January. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

And that means that the days of everyone focusing intently on individual states for days or a week at a time are over.

By all rights, that should favor the candidate with the money and the national organization, Mitt Romney.

Then again, the word “should” doesn’t have a great track record in this year’s presidential race.

The next two contests in the race — the Arizona and Michigan primaries Feb. 28 — will be followed a week later by Super Tuesday, in which 10 states will vote. While the first two months of the campaign divvied up about 250 delegates, that week alone will shell out about 500.

Before then, though, the campaigns have more than two weeks to ramp up and put together a national campaign that can compete in all those states.

Right?

Well, maybe. The fact is that this year’s campaign is much less about TV ads and ground game and much more about momentum and media coverage.

Rick Santorum has won more states than anybody else, and he’s done it with very little in the way of a TV ad campaign. Besides spending about $1 million on the air in South Carolina, the former Pennsylvania senator hasn’t spent much of anything in any other state.

It hasn’t stopped him from winning four states. The question now is whether he can keep it going under a wholly new set of circumstances.

Santorum’s three wins last Tuesday all came in states where turnout was very low and Romney’s campaign didn’t try very hard; and Santorum’s win in Iowa came after basically a year of focusing intently on the state.

He won’t have any of those luxuries going forward. What he does have, though, is momentum.

Santorum’s ascendancy in the GOP presidential race, for the first time, has gone national. The Gallup daily tracking poll now shows Santorum within seven points of Romney, trailing 34 percent to 27 percent.

We’re getting to the point in the race where national polling matters more and more, because the next stretch of the campaign will be fought in basically one-quarter of the country.

Santorum’s campaign, while seeing an uptick in fundraising in recent days, is still the most meagerly funded of the campaigns that remain. He will still be outspent, and probably significantly so, in the next phase of the campaign, and he will probably be outmanned, too.

That hasn’t mattered as much in this campaign as it has in the past, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t going forward. We’ll see.

Santorum downplays CPAC straw poll loss: Santorum blamed his second-place finish at the Conservative Political Action Conference Straw Poll on Saturday on his opponents gaming the system.

Santorum said his campaign refuses to play the game of buying tickets for supporters in order to inflate his vote total. He said Paul did this the past two years when won the straw poll and suggested Romney’s victory Saturday may have relied on similar tactics.

“You’ll have to talk to the Romney campaign and (ask them) how many tickets they bought,” Santorum said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We’ve heard all sorts of things.”

Santorum wound up losing to Romney 38 percent to 31 percent, despite his closer connection with the types of conservative activists that tend to dominate CPAC.

Paul disputes Maine loss: Meanwhile, Santorum isn’t the only one alleging underhanded tactics.

Ron Paul’s campaign is suggesting that one county’s caucus Saturday in Maine was postponed a week in an effort to help Romney’s campaign. The stated reason was a snowstorm, but Paul’s campaign said the county — Washington County — was a stronghold for its candidate and could have tipped the race.

Despite the postponement, the state GOP declared Romney the winner based on the votes it had received as of Saturday.

But it’s probably moot. Nate Silver ran the numbers and finds it extremely unlikely that Paul could make up 194 votes (his margin of defeat) in the county — especially given that he got just eight of 113 total votes there four years ago.

Fixbits:

White House chief of staff Jack Lew dismissed calls for an austerity budget Sunday, saying spending will continue in the president’s new budget proposal because the country isn’t “out of the woods yet.” Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee targets Obama’s budget in a web video.

Lew also said the White House wouldn’t bend any further on its compromise plan for Catholic institutions and contraception. But Paul Ryan said the so-called “compromise” is nothing more than a budget trick.

Sarah Palin says she’s not yet sold on Romney’s conservatism.

Alice Stewart, a former spokeswoman for Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign, joins Santorum as his new national press secretary.

Mississippi’s Supreme Court takes up former governor Haley Barbour’s (R) controversial pardons.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) offer competing plans to keep outside influence groups out of their matchup.

Video of Paul playing in the 1983 congressional baseball game, with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) on color commentary!

Must-reads:

Shrinking Senate hopes” — Fred Barnes, Weekly Standard

Romney is the right man for America. George Romney, that is.” — Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Washington Post

Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It” — Binyamin Appelbaum and Robert Gebeloff, New York Times

10 years after Salt Lake City Olympics, questions about Romney’s contributions” — Amy Shipley, Washington Post

Occupy Movement Regroups, Preparing for Its Next Phase” — Erik Eckholm, New York Times

In Fight Over Redistricting Maps, Sometimes It’s Where They Play the Game” — Ross Ramsey, Texas Tribune

For Gingrich, Choice Between Wooing Voters or Donors” — Trip Gabriel, New York Times

Supreme Court justices are being served on late-night television” — Robert Barnes, Washington Post

 
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