Santorum: A 2012 long shot tests the water

Now that the 2010 midterm elections are over, tongues have already started wagging over who the potential Republican presidential candidates may be in 2012.
By Karen Tumulty
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 10, 2010; 12:00 AM

GOFFSTOWN, N.H. - It was pushing 10 p.m., and Rick Santorum was sitting at the corner table in a near-empty Dunkin' Donuts. The garishly lit scene might have been lifted straight from the movie "Primary Colors."

"I'm feeling like doors are opening," the Republican former senator from Pennsylvania mused over his decaf. "Things are happening that maybe give me the impression that maybe I need to look at this seriously."

So seriously that Santorum was on his seventh trip to New Hampshire since April. Not to mention seven to Iowa over the past 14 months and seven to South Carolina in that time.

It had been a busy day: morning meetings with influential New Hampshire Republicans and grass-roots leaders, a luncheon with the Manchester Rotary Club, a dash to the seacoast for a private audience with former governor John Sununu, a dinner with GOP activist Claira Monier, then a question-and-answer session with the Goffstown-Weare Republican Committee.

Santorum had yet another meeting that evening back at his hotel. Before heading home the next day, he would get in an early-morning speech to a second Rotary chapter, a round of media interviews, more face time with GOP activists. Oh, and he'd make it to Mass at a nearby church.

This is what the embryonic days of a long-shot presidential campaign look like.

"If someone gets in the race that I feel really comfortable could do the things that need to be done - both winning and governing - then maybe this is a chance to say, 'Let this cup pass,' " Santorum said. "At this point, given what I see out there, I'm not feeling that."

It takes a certain kind of self-assurance, some might say a certain kind of self-delusion, to look at what it takes to capture the presidency of the United States and think: Hey, why not me?

It is an especially tall climb for a Republican like Santorum. Democrats have a history of taking chances on unknowns and fresh faces. The current occupant of the White House was two years out of the Illinois Senate when he sized up the competition, asked himself the same question and decided he was up to it.

But the GOP has a tradition of anointing the next person in line. With more than a dozen other names being mentioned, Santorum is nowhere near the front. The last time he was on a ballot, in a 2006 bid for a third Senate term in Pennsylvania, he lost by 18 percentage points.

Yet Santorum believes that this is an altered political environment - and that this time, the process of selecting a presidential nominee could be different for Republicans.

Others agree that the old GOP script could be rewritten in 2012. "People are desperate to the point of panic in wanting to get rid of Barack Obama, and increasingly anxious about the prospects of some of our choices," said a prominent Republican strategist, who did not want to be quoted by name suggesting that anything is lacking on the GOP bench.

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