by Jen Green
The 2012 GOP candidate field is set—no Christie, no Palin, no Huckabee. The clock is ticking on a shortened calendar.
And we’re waiting for something amazing.
However, in the possible absence of the “extraordinary,” one candidate is making the case for good old-fashioned hard work and elbow grease: Rick Santorum. While other candidates are either paring down their Iowa campaign staff, neglecting the state for a month to sell books, or refusing to show their faces around at all, the Santorum campaign sent out a press release yesterday, saying in part:
“Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) announced the additions of Sheila Murphy and Kip Murphy to his Iowa campaign team to coordinate campaign operations in Southwest Iowa and to advise in the area of statewide field operations.
Prior to the Iowa Straw Poll, Kip Murphy worked as part of the “Americans for Rick Perry” organization helping to lay the groundwork for an entrance into the presidential race. However, since that time, both the Murphys have selected Rick Santorum as their choice for the GOP nomination, citing both Santorum’s substantive policy stands and his campaign style and strategies.”
I talked with a member of Santorum’s team last night after I read the press release. Hogan Gidley, who works for Brabender Cox and advises the Santorum campaign, says that the addition of the Murphys to the campaign is a great one, and it’s indicative of a common thread he’s seeing in Iowa, South Carolina, and even New Hampshire. “People in these states don’t want big, shiny buses and ‘rah-rah’ speeches,” he told me. “They want, no—they expect—a candidate to sit down, look them in the eye, and answer questions.”
Santorum’s approach is taking him across all 99 of Iowa’s counties. He’s been at stops with half a dozen people, he’s been at stops with a hundred. I asked Gidley to describe the general mood of Iowans as they go across our state. He said they are very open but, “as Rick [Santorum] says, they ask tougher questions in Waterloo, Iowa then up on a stage with Brett Baier.” And, when you’re looking someone in the eye over a cup of coffee or a Maid Rite, there’s not a lot of wiggle room out of giving answers. Gidley says time with the grassroots “exposes a lot” which is good because a candidate “should be more than two questions deep” on the issues, which is all that’s shown in the big national debates.
Speaking of debates, Santorum has done well both in getting extra air time, pointing out other candidates flaws, and touting his own record in the last several nationally televised debates. I think it will be interesting to see how he does in November at The Family Leader’s Thanksgiving Family Forum. The format will be more of a “discussion” than a debate, so it may not be the right place to be pugilistic. However, he knows Iowa’s “issues” really well because he’s been here so much. We’ll see if it gives him an advantage over some of the other candidates who think they can swoop in and hit the high notes without spending much time on the ground.
And much time they do not have. The possibility is looming large for a December caucus, meaning the candidate’s spouses are going to have to do all the Christmas shopping this year. The candidates will be jetting from Iowa to New Hampshire to South Carolina to Florida. For a socially conservative candidate like Santorum, it would make sense that his campaign would place heavy emphasis on our state and South Carolina. Gidley says Santorum is doing well in the Palmetto State—that evangelical voters see in him someone who “has been in the foxhole and won” on many of the issues they hold dear.
I said it yesterday and I’m sure I’ll say it again tomorrow—the situation here in Iowa is a fluid one even though the field is set. Iowans are watching to see if these candidates do what they need to do to become viable and vote-worthy. Rick Santorum’s strategy is to outwork the rest of the field. But as my friend Steve says, “romance without finance is nuisance.” The campaign needs to show it is capable of raising money and expanding a donor base at some point, too. Principles, hard work and a little bit of money could make a compelling argument for the undecided grassroots voters. Is it enough to break out Santorum from the rest of the pack?