How Rick Santorum could break Mitt Romney's winning streak

Jan 11, 2012

Mitt Romney has been declared the winner in the New Hampshire Republican primary, making him the first-ever non-incumbent Republican to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. Impressive.

Romney's primary win doesn't mean he has the Republican nomination in the bag, though. Join Jennifer Rubin as she discusses about how despite Rick Santorum's recent poll numbers, he still has an opportunity to rise to the top in South Carolina.

Ask questions and subit your opinions now.

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Hello, I’m delighted to chat with all of you on the morning after the New Hampshire primary. Any way you slice and dice the numbers, it is a big win for Mitt Romney. But South Carolina provides new opportunities for Rick Santorum, given the shabby performance of the other not-Romney contenders, especially Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

I believe that if Rick Santorum wins the SC primary, he could still emerge as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney and eventually get the nomination. But if he loses SC, even coming in second place, Romney's momentum would be such that no one else could overcome him, despite the lack of delegates at stake. So how can Santorum win the nomination without SC?

No doubt that South Carolina is critical. But recall that we are talking about very small numbers of delegates. If Santorum were to come in a respectable second and thereby discourage the rest of the not-Romney candidates from going forward he can get into a one-on-one race. But South Carolina is critical, and without separating himself from the pack it will be hard for Santorum to gain momentum.

How badly do you think the Mittster will lose if a single alternative to Romney emerges? Also, how many evangelicals (code name for Scots-Irish) do you think won't show up to the polls if Mr. Romney ends up on the general election ballot? Thanks,

It depends on the quality of that opponent. If it is Ron Paul, Romney wins easily. If Santorum can shake off the others and articulate a clear conservative message it gets much more interesting.  I think the vast majority of evangelical voters are so anxious to get rid of President Obama that they will turn out in strong numbers in November.

Do you think the greater scrutiny of Rick Santorum's record may bring diminish his support, or do you believe it will not harm him at all?

Great question. The conservative purists will regard any vote on earmarks or spending as heresy. But in fact he has a very solid record on national security, taxes, regulations and of course social issues. The bigger challenge for him is a personal one – how to project a presidential image and explain his agenda succinctly.

How does he currently measure up against Obama? Could he actually be elected? Would he feel he needed to choose a moderate as VP, or would his base not accept this? Finally, how many Romney supporters would end up sitting out the election, even if they don't vote for Obama?

Santorum is an interesting figure. You can make the argument that he will scare off many independents because of his very vocal position on hot button issues. On the other hand, his blue-collar appeal and agenda, which emphasizes upward mobility, has great appeal to working class voters. I am certain that the vast number of Republicans will turn out to vote for whoever is the nominee. The antipathy toward the president is the great unifier for conservatives. As for the VP, I think it is WAY too early to even begin to figure that one out!

Ms. Rubin: I have to admit, I don't follow your analysis on Santorum. Even if he does better than expected in South Carolina, he doesn't appear to have an organization or presence in many of the primary states he would need to win to even have a chance of beating Romney. I mean, Romney has been building his organization in these states for quite some time, and I don't see, even if he got a huge cash infusion, how Santorum could compete for anything except a continued string of second or third place finishes.

No doubt Romney has great advantages and it is an uphill climb for Santorum. If it happens it will go like this: Santorum unifies the conservative base in South Carolina. Gingrich and Perry leave the race. Ron Paul’s share of the vote goes dramatically down in bigger states that don’t allow independents. There is a rally-round Santorum phenomenon, bringing cash and support. The GOP finally gets it’s not-Romney vs. Romney face off. But frankly, he’ll need Romney to stumble. As I wrote today on the blog Romney is extending his support to evangelicals and very conservative voters. The share of the not-Romney electorate is shrinking.

Assuming more than two opponents stick it out past Florida, Romney can expect to continue to get 40% of the primary votes but no more. Given that (or any other likely scenario you'd like to discuss), how long will it be before he has the votes necessary to get the nomination? The mudslinging will continue at least until then, perhaps damaging, perhaps innoculating Romney for the general election.

All you need is to keep racking up delegates. But in fact once lesser candidates drop out, I suspect Romney, if Santorum doesn’t set him back, will soon be getting more than 50%. Numercially he won’t be able to lock up the nomination until April.

Has anyone independently surveyed caucus and primary states to see whether Romney, Paul, Perry and other candidates are as organized as the Obama campaign was in 2008? Or are we just supposed to believe the campaigns' claims that they have strong ground teams at work? Obama won on the ground. Will Romney or Paul?

I don’t know of any such analysis. But part of the Romney pitch is that only he has the organization to put together an effective ground gme.

Admit it, you really support Newt for the nomination. I'm just kidding. Does Priebus start putting pressure on the Perrys and the Newts to bow out?

Thanks for the morning laugh! I think the days when candidates could be strong-armed to et out of the race are long gone. Eventually they run out of money or can’t take the humiliating losses. If Perry is only in single digits in South Carolina he is likely to head back to Austin, this time for good.

It is reported the Santorum has about $3 million. Do you know if this is correct? Whatever amount they have, does the campaign have the momentum after New Hampshire to keep the campaign alive and will this be enough for Santorum to win South Carolina?

I haven’t yet seen Santorum’s cash on hand numbers. I do know his superPAC made a healthy ad buy in South Carolina and will spend more. His fundraising took a jump after Iowa. It will be interesting to see if he can sustain that after New Hampshire.

It is true that Gingrich and Perry have made shabby finishes. Yet I am wondering if the anti-Romney vote may slowly be going to Romney in recogition that even Santorum is not doing well? None of Romney's challengers appear to be standing well in the polls.

You raise a good point if we look only at New Hampshire. But Santorum does have an opening in a state better suited to him, with more evangelical voters and fewer independents. He’s going to have to reconstruct the same coalition that got him a tie in Iowa.

You seem to think that the bible thumpers will be the ones to decide who will be the nominee. Right now it looks more like big money will be the group to decide. Thank you Super PACs. Brought to you by the pigs on the SCOTUS. Will big money and the bible thumpers come together to support one candidate? Or will these two factions of the GOP eventually be the demise of the grand old party? My guess is the bible thumpers will line up like sheep as they always do, once big money tells them who to line up for.

I’m not enamored of your reference to religious voters. But in this case, Romney is beginning to win over evangelical voters as well as other segments of the GOP. The frustration of evangelicals, as it was in 2008, is that without agreeing to back a single candidate the opposition to the more moderate frontrunner is fractured.

I thought that Rick had a good debate last Saturday, but after hearing Romney's victory speech last night and reading about how he's gone off-script at rallies to defend and describe capitalism to OWS types, I just think he is going to take all the marbles. Do you think that Romney is getting any pointers from Chris Christie on using protestors as a foil to elevate his ideals? I think so, and I think it's working. Your blog is a must-read for me, BTW.

Thanks so much for reading Right Turn. I hope you have as much fun reading as I do writing it. You raise a really important point: Romney in the face of the anti-Bain attacks came alive. His critics would say he was almost lifelike last night! If that gives him an emotional hook, namely defending capitalism, it will wind up inuring to his benefit. Maybe a little Chris Christie did wear off! He took on a heckler for the first time this week, a very Christie-esque move.

Is there any "regional" support for Gingrich given that he is from neighboring Georgia?

Good question. You would think so, but Gingrich doesn’t necessarily come across as a “Southern” candidate. He proved less than attractive to evangelicals in Iowa.

Paul, Santorum, possibly even Gingrich have supporters who will be very angry if their man loses and might consider not supporting Romney in the general election. I don't get that vibe about Romney supporters. They support him because they think he can win and they like him well enough, but does anyone truly love him?

Well, better to be respected than loved and best of all to be running against Obama. There is always a cry that the other guys’ supporters won’t back the winner, but given the state of the economy and the conservative desire to replace the president I think Romney should be able to unite the party. A strong VP like Sen. Marco Rubio would help in that regard.

Romney's Europe line against Obama sounded great on TV last night. It may not ring so true once the Super-PACs run up ads with a picture of the mansion that Mitt lived in Paris during his deferment from serving in the Vietnam War.

No doubt Obama will run the meanest, dirtiest campaign since the 19th century when candidates attacks were far more vicious than they are now. But the real question is whether that helps Obama escape his own record and the economy on which he said he should be judged. He’s sure not going to win on “hope and change” by splattering Romney in mud.

There seems to be a preoccupation with Romney not having cracked, until recently, 40% with GOP voters. Isn't the whole point of the primary process to produce a nominee that builds to a majority? Why is everyone lamenting Romney's lack of a majority? Reagan ran for the nomination twice and lost, ultimately building majority support through the primary/caucus process like every other eventual nominee in either party.

Boy, are you on the money. There has been an awful lot of silly punditry by people who don’t grasp that point. In a multi-candidate field the eventual winner advances bit by bit and in doing so can impress former opponents and sharpen himself for the general election.

Do you agree with the notion that an abbreviated nomination process would actually hurt his chances come with fall?

I do agree that longer primaries, like the 2008 Democratic marathon, can heighten interest and excitement. The race mathematically can’t be won until April, but I do think that Romney improves with competition.

Does anyone else have the staying power financially to compete with Romney past South Carolina and Florida? If donors are still keeping their powder dry they may have already allowed Romney to grab the nomination by shear inertia.

If Santorum catches fire, the money will come. But let’s be candid. Romney just announced he has $19 million in cash on hand. That buys a lot of air time. Santorum will need to start doing very well very soon if he is to attract donors and fuel a long run.

The time has flown, but I have very much enjoyed chatting with you all. I’ll be writing all week at Right Turn on the South Carolina race, Romney, Santorum and more. Please come on by as often as you can! I look forward to future chats.

In This Chat
Jennifer Rubin
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective. She covers a range of domestic and foreign policy issues and provides insight into the conservative movement and the Republican Party. Rubin came to The Post after three years with Commentary magazine. Her work has appeared in a number of print and online publications, including The Weekly Standard, where she has been a frequent contributor. Prior to her career in journalism, Rubin practiced labor law for two decades. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and two sons.
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