Santorum hopes strong Iowa finish will spark campaign’s next phase

Rick San­torum likes to say that Iowa could be the spark to light a fire under his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in New Hampshire, South Carolina and beyond.

He got what he hoped for Tuesday, completing a last-minute surge from the bottom of the polls to finish in a virtual tie with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

“Game on,” Santorum told giddy supporters at a hotel with a hunting-lodge motif near Des Moines. “You, by standing up and not compromising, by standing up and being bold and leading with that burden and responsibility you have of being first, you have taken the first step of taking back this country.”

Referring to Romney, San­torum told supporters he knows they’ve been told there is another candidate who is better because he can win.

“What wins in America are bold ideas, sharp contrasts and a plan that includes everyone,” he said.

But fanning the flame struck by his last-minute Iowa surge will require resources and organization on an entirely different level than his campaign has demonstrated so far.

To build on his Iowa performance, Santorum will need to quickly pull in the kind of dollars his opponents have been raising for months.

He will be unable to spend the sort of time meeting individual voters and visiting tiny towns and rural communities that has been the mark of his Iowa operation.

He will be competing in territory that might be less receptive to his message, which leans heavily on his support for traditional values and opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

And if his candidacy looks viable, he will face sustained, serious attacks on his record and electability from his Republican rivals, and he will have to find resources to blunt them.

The surge of media attention flowing from his strong showing will offer him a way to respond to some of these challenges, but it also raises the threat of pulling him off the campaign message.

“He’ll get a lot of attention going to New Hampshire,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. “But I think he has a virtually unknown organization there. He’ll have to ride earned media and appeal to his voters, and I don’t know if his campaign is prepared to handle it.”

Santorum won’t be starting from scratch in New Hampshire. He says he has visited the state 30 times, even while making Iowa his primary focus. They say he has county captains signed up in all 10 New Hampshire counties; ads contending that he is best positioned to beat President Obama aired there this week. He told an Iowa crowd Monday night that the ad buy will steadily increase in coming days.

Ads will also go up in South Carolina, where Santorum has made 26 visits and where he has lined up county chairmen in 42 of 46 counties.

With eight events, including three town hall meetings, scheduled in New Hampshire on Wednesday and Thursday, San­tor­um will work to build on Iowa’s gains quickly. If Texas Gov. Rick Perry leaves the race, as he suggested Tuesday night he is weighing, it may help Santorum consolidate conservative support.

“We’re going to go to New Hampshire,” Santorum told a crowd at a pizza joint in Altoona, Iowa, on Monday night. “We’re going to campaign there nonstop. . . . We think we can defeat them. Obviously, Governor Romney’s been running for president for many, many years. But we think we can do well.”

In an interview last week, Santorum said he also thinks he makes a good cultural fit with New Hampshire, a background that could help him avoid the fate of Mike Huckabee, who won Iowa with conservative backing in 2008 but was unable to translate that victory into further success.

He will stress the parts of his platform that received less emphasis in Iowa than his outspoken advocacy on social issues. Those include a tough stance against Iran that contrasts with Rep. Ron Paul’s hands-off approach and a tax plan that would eliminate the corporate tax rate for manufacturers, in an attempt to lure factory jobs back to the United States.

That message, he said, plays well in blue-collar parts of New Hampshire and would make him an appealing candidate against Obama in key Midwestern swing states such as Ohio.

“Deliver that message in small-town Iowa, and guess what makes up small-town Iowa? Manufacturing,” he said in an interview last week, explaining his growing appeal. “Guess what makes up Manchester, Nashua, go on down the list? It’s manufacturing.”

Meanwhile, consolidating a Christian conservative vote that has so far been splintered could help Santorum start to build the campaign treasury he would need to mount a serious challenge to Romney.

“Leaders in different states, with different coalitions and networks, who say, ‘I like Rick San­tor­um, but only if he can win,’ now they need to put gas in the tanks so he can win,” said Bob Vander Plaats, an evangelical activist who chaired Huckabee’s 2008 effort and now supports Santorum.

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