Will Rick Santorum’s strong Iowa finish lead to New Hampshire surge?

January 4, 2012

Rick Santorum, who finished a close second to Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses Tuesday, is looking to take his message to New Hampshire with the hope of maintaining the momentum his Iowa performance has created. As Rosalind S. Helderman reported:

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum may be best known as an outspoken advocate of conservative social issues.

But in a speech capping off his near-win in the Iowa caucuses Tuesday night, he made plain he wants to introduce another side to New Hampshire voters: Rick Santorum, economic populist.

He insisted that conservatives must make clear they care about the problems of the working-class and not just cut taxes.

“If we have someone who can go out to western Pennsylvania and Ohio and Michigan and Indiana and Wisconsin and Iowa and Missouri and appeal to the voters that have been left behind by a Democratic party that wants to make them dependent instead of valuing their work, we will win this election,” he said.

He can do it, he said, with a tax plan that eliminates the corporate income tax for manufacturers, in an effort to lure factories back from overseas.

“I believe in cutting taxes. I believe in balancing budgets . . . But I also believe we as Republicans have to look at those who are not doing well in our society by just cutting taxes and balancing budgets,” he said.

In building a strong economy, Santorum told CNN late Tuesday, “we need to make sure the economy’s going to be strong for everybody.”

Only eight votes separated Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in the final Iowa count, yet their supporters represent different parts of the GOP. As Aaron Blake explained:

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum wound up in a virtual tie in the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday. And they did it from extremely different bases of support.

While Santorum relied on very conservative voters, born-again Christians, and social and moral conservatives, Romney relied on voters who were most concerned about the economy, who just want to beat President Obama, and those who don’t identify as born-agains.

And the difference, in almost every case, was stark.

According to entrance polls, Santorum took 32 percent of born-again Christians but just 14 percent of everyone else, while Romney took just 14 percent of born-agains and 38 percent of everyone else.

While Santorum took 35 percent of voters who described themselves as ”very conservative,” Romney took 14 percent. Among those who called themselves moderate or liberal, Romney beat Santorum 35 percent to 8 percent.

Santorum took 57 percent of those who said abortion was their most important issue, and more than one-third of the vote from both those seeking the most conservative candidate and those seeking the candidate with “strong moral character.”

Romney took 34 percent among those who said the economy was their top issue and 49 percent who said they were looking for the candidate who can beat Obama — far outpacing his rivals on both of those measures.

Assuming Santorum gets a bump in the presidential race (a safe assumption) and suddenly becomes the new anti-Romney candidate in the field (a less-safe assumption), it sets up a very interesting contrast.

Many analysts have put Santorum’s success down to his hard campaigning in the state, yet others have posited that Santorum’s surge in support among social conservatives is more important. As Ezra Klein wrote :

Much of the punditry on Rick Santorum’s strong finish in Iowa is attributing his late success to his social conservatism, or the endorsements of major evangelical leaders, or his dogged commitment to retail politics. In other words: Santorum finished in the top three because he did something important right. But there’s a simpler explanation, too: Santorum finished in the top three because he was lucky.

Santorum’s surge followed a pattern we’ve seen over and again in the Republican primary. The difference is that Santorum’s surge translated into votes. But that was the result of good timing. By the time Iowa’s Republicans turned their attention to Santorum, they were out of viable not-Romneys. Viewed that way, however, Santorum’s surge doesn’t prove he was an unusually effective campaigner, or that his ideas were appealing. If anything, it proves the opposite.

Back in October, Ron Brownstein argued that the Republican primary had become “two races running along parallel but very distinct tracks.” One track was the non-Tea Party primary. These were the 50 percent of Republicans who told pollsters they were either “neutral” or “negative” on the Tea Party. The other was the Tea Party primary, composed of the 50 percent of Republicans who told pollsters they were sympathetic to the Tea Party.

If you looked at the polls, Brownstein said, the non-Tea Party Republicans were coalescing around Mitt Romney. The Tea Party Republicans were searching desperately for an alternative to Romney.

More from Post Politics

Bachmann drops out after Iowa caucuses

Time for the Huntsman surge?

Rick Perry to reassess campaign

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