Rick Santorum, who has been a non-factor in the Republican presidential campaign with poll support stuck in single digits, is on the upswing in Iowa, where the key voting bloc of social and religious conservatives are taking to his message, The Hill
And Santorum has just received the endorsements of two influential conservatives in the Hawkeye State -- Bob Vander Plaats, head of the Family Leader group; and Iowa Family Policy Center head Chuck Hurley.
In the latest survey from Public Policy Polling, former Pennsylvania Sen. Santorum scored 10 percent support in Iowa, tying him for fourth place with Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, behind leaders Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. That’s a marked improvement from Santorum’s 6.3 percent, sixth-place showing in a RealClearPolitics average of recent Iowa polls.
Some GOP heavyweights say Santorum even has a chance – albeit a small one – to win the Jan. 3 caucuses in Iowa.
Santorum hopes to duplicate the feat of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a social/religious conservative who scored a come-from-behind victory in Iowa’s 2008 caucuses. Huckabee’s leap came soon after Thanksgiving. Santorum has less time, but some Republican politicos say that doesn’t count him out.
“The guy on the move is Santorum. He’s shown movement in terms of lining up these endorsements and people who can move voters, and is showing movement on the ground,” Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Iowa Republican Party who’s neutral in the race, told The Hill.
“He’s got major endorsements rolling in, he’s got his super-PAC advertising, he’s got his own TV ad up. His campaign is starting to show that there’s indisputable proof that there’s momentum.”
Social/religious conservatives, who make up a majority of caucus voters, are split between Santorum, Minnesota Rep. Bachmann, and Texas Gov. Perry. But Santorum has hit the hustings hardest in Iowa, already visiting all 99 counties by last month. That gives him more momentum than the other two conservatives, which could conceivably lead to victory.
To be sure, despite his move up in the polls, 10 percent doesn’t exactly represent monolithic support. And if social/religious conservatives remain fractured over who they support, the victory could go to former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, Gingrich or Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
But working in Santorum’s favor, Paul and Romney, who lead in the latest Iowa polls, have a hard ceiling of support at around 20 percent, political operatives told The Hill. That obviously creates an opportunity for a candidate who can get hot down the stretch.
Iowa Rep. Steve King, one of the state’s conservative kingpins, says many social/religious conservatives haven’t definitively made up their mind on who they will vote for yet. Campaign infrastructure will be the deciding factor, he told The Hill. Santorum obviously has an advantage there. King, who hasn’t endorsed a candidate but is close to Bachmann, said she also has a strong retail campaign that will stand her in good stead.
“The support is going to flow on caucus night to the candidate or candidates who are best organized on the precinct level,” he said.
“Whoever can deploy a couple thousand good speakers out there to each one of those places can make a difference, because there will be a lot of undecideds sitting out there. At this point, it looks to me like Santorum has the best structure, and Bachmann is closing on that right now. Those two structures are the two best in the state.”
The Family Leader’s Vander Plaats is also very influential. He lauded Santorum’s qualifications in glowing terms Tuesday, after calling for Bachmann to withdraw from the race Saturday. Not surprisingly, she declined the offer.
But even the Minnesotan’s backers acknowledge the importance of Vander Plaats’ seal of approval. “It’s a meaningful endorsement, and one which I’m sure Michele Bachmann wished she could have received,” Danny Carroll, a social conservative activist and Bachmann supporter in Iowa, told The Hill.
“It would be a mistake to write Rick Santorum off. It would be inaccurate. You can’t have the kind of support and endorsements Sen. Santorum has received and not be a serious competitor.”
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