MANCHESTER, N.H. — Regardless of how strong Rick Santorum finishes in the Iowa caucuses today, he will emerge from the Hawkeye State with very little money, virtually no national infrastructure, and no clear path to the Republican Party's presidential nomination.
The former Pennsylvania senator, who is surging in pre-caucus Iowa surveys, cannot easily afford a rental car, never mind pollsters or television advertising. And Republicans in New Hampshire and beyond suggest there's simply not enough time for Santorum to mobilize the organization needed to become a major factor in the race for the White House.
Still, Santorum is commanding attention — and hoping to ride a wave of momentum from Iowa.
"He's showing he can live off the ground, so to speak, and make a real competitive go of it," said Jamie Burnett, an unaligned, New Hampshire-based GOP strategist who said Santorum could fare well in New Hampshire's Jan. 10 primary. "A top-three finish in New Hampshire is a big deal. But I don't know that moral victories — and that would be a moral victory — would be enough at this point."
Looking past Iowa, a cash-strapped Santorum has a barebones staff in New Hampshire and South Carolina. And the campaign has given little thought to how it would compete in Florida, a big state in which candidates typically rely on television advertising to connect with voters.
The situation Santorum finds himself in today is reminiscent of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. He won the Iowa caucus in 2008 with a similar appeal to religious conservatives only to run out of money and energy for the subsequent state contests.
Four years later, Santorum has been an afterthought in the GOP nomination contest for months. Until last week, he was stuck in the low single digits in most polls. But in a campaign that's seen several Mitt Romney alternatives rise and fall, Santorum appears to be rising in Iowa, an apparent beneficiary of Newt Gingrich's decline after his brief turn with front-runner status.
An outspoken social conservative, Santorum has been out of politics since losing his Senate seat from Pennsylvania in 2006. And while he was a frequent New Hampshire visitor early in the year, he's recently been camped out in Iowa, where social conservatives wield significant influence over the Republican caucus.
But campaign manager Mike Biundo says Santorum will compete aggressively in New Hampshire and the subsequent early-voting states. Other presidential contenders — namely Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry — are bypassing the more moderate New Hampshire and heading straight to South Carolina.
"I'm from New Hampshire," Biundo said Monday. "A former senator from Pennsylvania can play very well with his manufacturing plan and his northeast roots in the Northeast."
Beating Barack Obama may be wishful thinking for Santorum unless he reverses his fundraising struggles in a hurry. Some sort of fundraising bump is likely after a strong performance in Iowa. The question is how much will he get and how soon.
Because of a compressed voting schedule, Santorum's window is limited to capitalize on any Iowa success before the New Hampshire primary, which is just a week later. South Carolina follows on Jan. 21 and the expensive Florida contest is Jan. 31.
Santorum raised just $700,000 between July and September, the most recent figures available. He reported less than $200,000 in his campaign account at the end of the quarter. Romney, by contrast, raised $14.2 million and finished the quarter with $14.7 million on hand.
Santorum's campaign poverty is on display in Iowa this week, where he's relying on a supporter's pickup truck for transportation. And campaign officials concede they can't afford the standard tools of other campaigns, such as their own pollsters.
Republican strategist Phil Musser notes that Santorum has virtually nothing in the way of a national fundraising apparatus. To capitalize on any momentum out of Iowa, he'd probably need significant outside help from a super PAC. There's simply not enough time to raise the money to compete with Romney and others while depending on individual $2,500 contributions, the legal limit for campaigns.
"Could they put together $10 million in five days?" Musser asked. "It's an open question."
Without that unlikely scenario, Santorum probably will bet his candidacy on a "slingshot" strategy out of Iowa, hoping that an aggressive retail campaign helps him catch fire with voters in other early-voting states. That's a risky strategy at best.
"It could work, but it will be severely tested by lack of money and down-calendar organization, Mitt's New Hampshire firewall and a very compressed timeline through Florida," Musser said.
Four years ago, Huckabee won Iowa but finished a distant third in New Hampshire.
Santorum has a lot of ground to make up if he even hopes to match Huckabee's New Hampshire showing. He was stuck in the single digits near the bottom of the pack, according to a Suffolk University poll of likely New Hampshire primary voters released Sunday.
"There just isn't a lot of time to recover from single-digit polling here," New Hampshire GOP operative Alicia Preston said. "Romney is safe for first here. It's a race for second and if Santorum wants that spot he needs to move here Wednesday. But it's a long shot at best."
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