Rick Santorum surging as Iowa caucuses begin; will it be enough?

January 3, 2012

Rick Santorum has surged in the polls in a late run at the Iowa caucuses in the past few weeks, crossing the state to speak to voters in each county before they cast their votes on Tuesday night. His final argument to voters; not to settle. As Rosalind S. Helderman reported :

In the mad-dash final hours before Iowans caucus to choose who they think should be the Republican nominee for president, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum’s message has come down to this: Don’t settle for anything less than a pure conservative.

In a field that he sometimes explicitly but more often implicitly suggests is mushy on causes that matter most to right-leaning voters, he presents himself as a “full-spectrum conservative,” insisting that he offers the race’s most consistent voice advancing traditional Republican positions on limited government, robust national defense and social values.

Is is a message that could hold some appeal in a race where the most conservative voters have jumped from candidate to candidate and polls show many have been generally displeased with their options.

“You can do what Iowans tend to do,” he told voters in what amounted to a closing argument at a pizza joint in Altoona on Monday night. “You can ignore the pundit class. You can ignore the moderate Republicans, who say, ‘Oh we need a moderate. We’ve got to win, we’ve got to win.’ And Iowa will stand up and say: ‘No. We need to be principled to win.’ ”

Santorum chose the final day of campaigning in Iowa to level a direct attack at rival GOP candidate Ron Paul, who has polled strongly in the state. As Rachel Weiner explained:

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum dropped the gloves against Texas Rep. Ron Paul this morning.

“Ron Paul is disgusting,” Santorum told a handful of Fox News reporters Tuesday morning.

Santorum has been gaining on Paul in Iowa polls heading into today’s Iowa caucuses. He blamed the Texas congressman for robocalls running in the state that claim Santorum supports abortion rights and opposed the gun rights.

It’s a page from the playbook of former House speaker Newt Gingrich , who has been lambasting his rivals for going negative.

Paul, meanwhile, has aggressively attacked his rivals in ads. And on Monday Paul called Santorum “very liberal ... ”He spends too much money. He wasn't leading the charge to slash the budgets and vote against big government.”

Santorum’s focus on Iowa, particularly on creating personal bonds with the voters there, is an effort to outperform rival candidates whose budgets far outstrip the Santorum campaign warchest. As Rosalind S. Helderman reported:

If former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) is able to translate his late surge into a strong showing in Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses, it won’t be because of money spent on advertising — his budget pales in comparison to those of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination.

And it won’t be because of his sparkling debate performances — as a longtime second-tier candidate, he received limited airtime during those events.

But it may be because of the personal connections he has built with people such as Steve Boender, a farmer who met Santorum in May.

“I soon came to realize, as I got to know him, how he walked his talk. And he knew what he was talking about,” Boender said.

Conventional wisdom says presidential candidates win in Iowa by forging that kind of bond with voters. Now, Santorum is banking that this is still a path to victory, despite the focus this year on massive spending by “super PACs” and the influence of Fox News interviews and nationally televised debates.

After running behind for much of the race, Santorum pushed into third place in the latest Des Moines Register poll. On Tuesday, a key test for him will be whether a network of local supporters such as Boender can mount the organizational effort needed to draw enough voters to the caucuses — an operation his campaign cannot afford to buy.

Read more from PostPolitics:

@MentionMachine: Who’s up, down on Twitter?

PostPartisan: Predictions on who will take Iowa

Interactive: Tales from the campaign trail

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