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What Rick Santorum and John Edwards have in common

at 06:30 AM ET, 01/02/2012

For six years — from 1998 to 2004 — Rick Santorum and John Edwards served in the Senate together. And it would seem that that time spent in the world's greatest deliberative body is about all the two men ever had in common.


Former Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards.(AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
But Santorum’s current surge in Iowa evokes nothing so much as Edwards’ rapid rise in the Hawkeye State in the final days before the 2004 caucuses.

“In Iowa, there’s one path for an unknown candidate in a multi-candidate race with real front-runners: be positive, be substantive, and be relentlessly retail,” said Jonathan Prince, a former senior adviser to Edwards’ presidential bid. “It’s not a guarantee, but when the front-runners start beating each other up as they are almost certain to do, you’re there to pick up the voters who leave them in disgust.”

Edwards, then a relatively unknown North Carolina senator, worked Iowa relentlessly even as he was overshadowed for the majority of the race by the likes of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and former Vermont governor Howard Dean.

As the race drew closer, Dean began to collapse, and many voters remained less than thrilled with Kerry. Enter Edwards, who became the momentum candidate in the race.

The final Des Moines Register poll that year showed Kerry at 26 percent and Edwards at 23 percent. On caucus night, Edwards very nearly pulled off the upset and did well enough to wind up on the national ticket as Kerry’s running mate.

Like Edwards, Santorum has spent hundreds of hours working the state with almost no press attention. And, like Edwards, Santorum is clearly the momentum candidate in the field — benefiting from the fact that former House speaker Newt Gingrich is fading and many Iowa Republicans remain unconvinced of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s conservative credentials.

(Need evidence? Santorum took 15 percent in the four-day Register poll but received 21 percent over the final two days of the survey.)

There are, of course, differences. Edwards had won the endorsement of the Des Moines Register, which gave him a burst of media attention that touted him as a fresh-faced alternative to a field that most Democrats weren’t terribly excited about.

And, Edwards was an in­cred­ibly gifted politician whose speaking skills won him lots of converts. While Santorum is clearly able, he lacks the natural abilities of Edwards.

So, what does the future hold for Santorum in Iowa?

Some of that depends on whether the organization he put into place over the past year can turn excitement into votes. (Edwards had a stellar Iowa team that included, among others, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon and Mitch Stewart, both of whom became key cogs in President Obama’s grassroots organizing apparatus.)

And some depends on pure luck. For Santorum to turn an Iowa surprise into genuine momentum in other states, he needs to be a major storyline — something Edwards couldn’t make happen for reasons entirely out of his control.

“We were hoping to be one of the two big stories coming out of Iowa, but the collapse of the ‘Perfect Storm’ coupled with the very TV-friendly ‘Dean Scream’ sucked up all of the oxygen and we lost all momentum,” said Christine Reynolds, a senior adviser to Edwards in the 2004 race.

Romney eyes Santorum: With just 48 hours to go until the Iowa caucuses, Romney turned his attention to a new target Sunday: Santorum.

With the former Pennsylvania senator rising in the polls, Romney tried to draw a contrast by casting him as the career politician.

“Like Speaker Gingrich, Senator Santorum has spent his career in government, in Washington,” Romney said, according to the Post’s Phil Rucker. “Nothing wrong with that, but it’s a very different background than I have. And I think that the people of this country recognize that, with our economy as the major issue we face right now, that it would be helpful to have someone who understands the economy first-hand, who spent the bulk of his career working in the private sector.”

To call that an attack would be a stretch. In fact, Romney seemed to go out of his way to call Santorum a “good guy.”

Santorum endorsed Romney’s campaign in 2008, though he tempered that endorsement a bit Sunday morning, saying Romney was simply the better of two candidates when he endorsed him over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) late in the 2008 GOP race.

“I made the political judgment – right or wrong – that he had the best chance to stop John McCain,” Santorum said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Recent polling has shown Santorum in a clear third place behind Romney and Paul.

Meanwhile, the second-tier candidates offered a harsher review of Santorum’s history with earmarks.

Fixbits:

Santorum gets confronted with his past support for abortion exceptions. He also defends his earmarking past.

Paul says a charge from a former staffer that he dabbled in 9/11 conspiracy theories is “nonsense.”

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) first says he will intervene to get more GOP candidates on the ballot in his state, but then changes his mind. Everyone but Romney and Paul failed to make the ballot.

Romney compares Obama’s campaign promises to Kim Kardashian’s wedding nuptials.

Gingrich compares his treatment recently to what the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth did to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 presidential campaign. He also says Romney would buy the election if he could.

A new super PAC seeks to mobilize black voters for Obama in key states.

Despite his clean campaign pledge, Gingrich’s ad firm is known for “winning, no matter what it takes.”

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) says there is a 50-50 chance he will endorse before Tuesday.

Jon Huntsman, still plugging away in New Hampshire, says he will match contributions through Wednesday with his own money. He previously self-funded about half his third-quarter fundraising total.

After avoiding the gender card early in the campaign, Bachmann plays it.

Must-reads:

Rick Santorum rises with blue-collar pitch” — John F. Harris and Alexander Burns, Politico

Top Five Electoral Outcomes Journalists Are Secretly Rooting For” — Ryan Lizza, New Yorker

GOP’s election battle plan: Use Obama’s own words against him” — Peter Wallsten, Washington Post

Ron Paul leaves rosy outlooks, campaign promises to the other GOP candidates” — Nia-Malika Henderson, Washington Post

‘Super PACs’ are showing their power” — Tom Hamburger and Melanie Mason, Los Angeles Times

 
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