Craig Robinson of the Iowa Republican breaks the news that Chuck Laudner, the former chief of staff for Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), has endorsed Rick Santorum:

Laudner has been at the epicenter of conservative politics in Iowa for over a decade. It’s not his close association to King that makes Laudner’s endorsement important, it’s his track record of working for conservative candidates and causes. . . .

Laudner’s endorsement of Santorum comes at a critical time. Santorum has done a good job of getting to know Iowans by campaigning in every county in the state. People like Santorum. They openly say so, but he has yet to seal the deal with many of them. Laudner provides the Santorum campaign with two key things.

First, he provides a signal that, even though Santorum’s poll numbers don’t reflect much movement, conservatives are beginning to coalesce around his campaign. Secondly, Laudner provides the campaign with someone who can twist a few arms, which is something the Santorum campaign lacks.

Laudner is hands down the best-connected conservative activist in the state. . . . Having Laudner on board should allow the Santorum campaign to target key social conservative activists who are currently sitting on the sidelines and get them to support Santorum’s campaign.

Needless to say, this shows why spending time on the ground in Iowa can pay off. It also suggests that, at least among serious activists, Herman Cain and Texas Gov. Rick Perry haven’t fit the bill as reliable, electable and serious conservatives. It’s also not good news for Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who was thought to fit that bill when she won the Ames straw poll in August.

Laudner told the Republican that he backed Santorum because he is “not only a full-spectrum conservative, but he’s had actual conservative victories in his career. I’m not looking for someone who checks the pro-life box on a survey. I want a pro-life hero who has been in the arena moving the ball.”

Another GOP Iowa operative not with any campaign concurs with Robinson that that this is a “legitimate” coup for Santorum. Laudner, the operative says, “knows what he’s doing and incredibly well-connected.”

Unlike Cain, Bachmann and Perry, who have been high in the polls and led in Iowa at one time or another, Santorum doesn’t need to win the state. A strong showing in which he bests one or all of those three would lift him in the pack. Laudner’s help might make the difference between, say, a fifth-place finish and a third- or fourth-place one.

Every new politician and political operative thinks he can reinvent the rules of politics, but few do. Santorum may show that, in the end, caucus politics remains the art of cultivating networks of support — to convince your people to come out in greater numbers than the other guys’ people. It’s hard to do that from afar or when you don’t have a steady, consistent policy message.