How Rick Santorum revived his campaign, and what comes next

Feb 08, 2012

Rick Santorum had a breakthrough night Tuesday, winning GOP presidential contests in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado, all of which is expected to breathe life into his struggling campaign and slow Mitt Romney's march to the Republican presidential nomination.

Can Santorum keep this momentum going, and what led to his win in these three primaries? Ask Post reporter Rosalind Helderman as she lives chats about Santorum's campaign for the Republican nomination.

Ask questions and submit your opinions now.

Read: Santorum revives campaign with wins in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota

Hi everyone--glad to be with you today to discuss Sen. Santorum's wins in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado yesterday. A warning that I may have just a few minutes to answer questions, but I'll try to get to at least a few before I have to go.

Not much. The name of the game is Delegate Count. Contests when no delegates are in play don't mean very much except to hard core supporters who feel the need to make a statement in favor of their guy. "Winning" or "losing" in this little right wing corner of the Republican party needs to be put into perspective. The Santorum campaign tried to liken the reversal of the Iowa straw poll decision into a referee's overturning a field decision in the last three seconds of the Super Bowl, but wishing doesn't (and didn't) make it so.

You may be right--but momentum and narrative do count for something in these races. All along, what Santorum has sought is the chance to go head-to-head with Romney. Yesterday might have helped him get a chance at edging ahead of Gingrich, regardless of the impact on delegates.

I am surprised that everyone is so excited about 50,000 people voting. Isn't the biggest, largely untold, story so far how few people are voting?

That is one story--Felicia Sonmez has a good piece on our election 2012 blog about how turnout has dipped in most of the Republican races since 2008 and what problems that might portend for the RNC.

Of course, it hasn't dipped all that much. The truth is that these early state primaries tend to have very very low turnout and to draw largely the most committed party activists. Whether that makes for a good nominating process is an open question.

Is it possible for a late charging candidate to quickly put together the organization necessary to compete in upcoming primaries. Is TV necessary?

We'll see, won't we? This was the big question after Santorum's win in Iowa and it became quickly apparent that he didn't have enough money--or, more importantly, time to convert newly raised dollars into organization and ads--to make it count. But the dynamic is different now. The race is entering a quiet period. If he truly starts bringing in larger donations, he could pull something together to at least make life interesting for Romney.

My take is that while Santorum isn't a perfect candidate in terms of charisma, and while his record isn't flawless, he doesn't elicit from voters the kind of serious misgivings that Romney and Gingrich do. While Romney can seem calculating and is saddled with Romneycare, and Gingrich is undisciplined and has clear leadership deficits, Santorum comes across as sincere and competent, and as not only correct on the issues, but passionate about the most important ones to conservatives. Jeff, Columbia, SC

Thanks for the perspective. Poll after poll lately has shown Romney and Gingrich with big negatives. Santorum's the only top candidate who people generally seem to like, and I think the reasons you cite are likely why. Of course, he's also not been subjected to a barrage of negative ads from either Romney or Gingrich yet. It will be interesting to see if his favorable poll numbers hold up against the stream of ads to come.

There is no realistic chance Santorum can win the nomination, not up against Romney's money list and national organization. That being said, do you see ANY viable option that Santorum can even make this a real race over the long haul?

It would seem to be a huge long shot. But this year's race as turned all conventional wisdom on its head, so I'm not counting anything out. The key issue here seems to be, as it has been for months, that Romney is still having trouble sealing the deal with the most conservative part of the Republican base. And as long as that vulnerability remains, it's hard to predict with certainty how the race will go.

A common way to look at this election is that its Romney vs. Not Romney. Not Romney keeps winning the majority, but split between three or more candidates, this means that Romney is the actual winner. For Not Romney to win the nomination, Not Romney needs to become one person. Yesterday seems to ensure that Not Romney remains three people for the foreseeable future. In that sense, is Santorum winning good for Romney and bad for Not Romney?

That is certainly one way to look at it. Santorum and Gingrich have been trying to get one another out of the way since Iowa now. And neither has succeeded. Of course, if Gingrich were to drop from the race--and he shows absolutely no signs of doing so--his voters would likely migrate to Santorum. I'm not sure the same is true of Santorum voters.

If Santorum does this well in the primaries as well as in the caucuses, could we see a deadlocked convention in Tampa, even a walkout by Santorum supporters like the Democrats had in 1948? The GOP seems badly split right now.

In reporters' dreams. We would all love to cover a deadlocked brokered convention--the drama! But I think for all the excitement over the topsy-turvy race, that remains distinctly unlikely.

Obvious question: Doesn't this all have a lot more to do with conservatives looking for an alternative to Romney than with Santorum?

And an obvious answer: Probably yes.

Does Santorum have the funds to be competitive in the super Tuesdaly primaries and does he have a big pockets supporter like Newt?

He has an active super PAC that's been carefully husbanding money--it skipped Florida, for instance, to save money for yesterday's races. And it's got at least deep pocketed supporter--Utah investor Foster Friess, most recently seen standing behind Santorum at his victory party last night.

That said, he will be hugely outspent in the weeks to come. For success, he'll have to pick a few states on which to concentrate and do very well there. His goal will be to prove viability over time, picking up donors along the way.

Here in Minnesota, the causus attendees chose people to go to the local conventions to choose the ultimate delegates. A Paul or Santorum supporter chosen to go the local conventions isn't suddenly going to decide they are going to support Romney.

Thanks for making this point. Yesterday was non-binding--but it wasn't without meaning, in part for the reason you cite. Of course, if Romney has trounced Santorum et al by the time the conventions are held, there could still be an effort to rally around the nominee. That's the kind of situation where delegates sometimes jump ship and support a candidate different than the one they said they would on election day.

What has to happen for Santorum to beat Romney in Michigan?

Michigan would seem a particular challenge for Santorum, since it's Romney's original home state. His people say he'll be playing there. But he's spending today in Texas and tomorrow in Oklahoma--both Super Tuesday states, so that tells you something.

Any thoughts on what happens in Ohio if Newt throws in the towel? Romney's still got a big selling job here in Southwest Ohio. Santorum looks very strong here at the moment.

An interesting question. But likely a moot one--Newt shows no signs of throwing in the towell, especially before March 6.

I have a theory about how one Republican candidate after another surges up - the problem is that one core message of the conservative candidates - that government must be cut way back to what is basically pre-Civil War levels - is manifestly unworkable in the 21st century world and will lead to immediate and immense difficulties. But, since the true believers in tiny government cannot accept this fact, they instead want to believe the problem is the candidate, not the message, and they run from one to another candidate hoping that the new favorite will resolve the dilemma.

Thanks for the thoughts.

At the present rate , China will definitely become the number one economic power in the world . What would you do specifically to prevent this from happening ?

What would I do? Personally? You Washington Post chatters are a tough crowd! I'll leave this challenge to smarter and more powerful people than I.

Thanks so much for so many great questions. I'm sorry I couldn't get to more of them--it's a busy post Election Day here in Washington Post world!

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Rosalind Helderman
Rosalind Helderman is a national political reporter for the Post. She covers Congress and has spent time on the Republican presidential campaign trail. She previously covered state politics in Virginia and other local beats in the Washington area.
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