Rick Santorum: The Mike Huckabee of 2012

Rick Santorum: The Mike Huckabee of 2012

01-04-2012
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Brody File Analysis of Rick Santorum's big night:

Rick Santorum: Simply put this is a remarkable story. This man was left for dead politically throughout much of this 2012 campaign until the very end. Heck, he was left for dead politically after his 2006 Senate loss to Bob Casey. And now here he is: The Mike Huckabee of 2012.

He went to every Pizza Ranch in Iowa (just like Huckabee), courted homeschoolers (just like Huckabee), won a big swath of evangelicals (just like Huckabee), and won on a shoestring budget (just like Huckabee).

What were the reasons for his "victory?" Here they are in no particular order:

- Voters saw him as an authentic conservative who has been in the trenches on various big issues throughout his career.
- He made no measurable mistakes. Not one goof up unlike Perry who had plenty.
- His opponents never really attacked him since he peaked late and when they did it was too little, too late
- He has an impressive resume that includes being a two-term U.S. Senator and someone who has held position in GOP leadership. (Unlike his social conservative rival Michele Bachmann, who doesn’t have the breadth of experience Santorum does)
- He camped in Iowa like he was running for governor (But he also spent tons of time in NH and SC, so don’t sell that aspect short)

Ultimately what Santorum was able to do was weave a convincing message that centered on faith and family while deftly talking and explaining American exceptionalism. He captured a good portion of Tea Party and Evangelical voters (Teavangelicals)

While you can’t prove this statistically, the endorsement from Iowa social conservative leader Bob Vander Platts was a big deal. It shouldn’t be underestimated nor should the kind words that Sarah Palin had for Santorum, too.

So what’s the future for Santorum? The smart play may be to go after Romney by setting this race up as a choice between the “authentic conservative candidate” and the “inauthentic conservative candidate.” That may be a way to easily frame the race for voters and play to Santorum’s strengths.

As for challenges, Santorum has two main ones. First of all, he has somehow got to convince voters that he can beat Obama and is really electable. The other challenge is that Santorum not show his prickly side too much. He can be ornery at times when challenged and he needs to keep that under control and not let the media scrutiny get to him. This isn’t his first rodeo but still, this is presidential politics and the media will now be looking for anything and everything about him.

Also, one final note: Everybody makes a big deal of how Santorum spent tons of time and Iowa and that’s true. But don’t forget he has also spent a great deal of time in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Don’t underestimate that. And one thing we learned Tuesday night in Iowa is to not underestimate Santorum.

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