Craig Eisele on …..

January 23, 2012

Is Santorum a Distraction for Gingrich??

He may not have much money or a ground game to speak of in Florida but Republican Rick Santorum will not pull out of the presidential race – much to the chagrin of rival Newt Gingrich and probably to the delight of a bruised Mitt Romney.

After Gingrich scored a resounding win in the South Carolina primary on Saturday, the former U.S. House of Representatives speaker badly wants to unite conservative and Tea Party elements of the Republican Party behind him ahead of Florida’s January 31 vote.

That would be easier to do if the socially conservative Santorum slipped away, especially in the face of a well-financed

Florida campaign by Romney. But Santorum vowed to keep his shoestring campaign alive as it heads to the country’s fourth most populous state after finishing third on Saturday.

“This is a long haul,” Santorum said early on Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

But the former Pennsylvania senator with a penchant for sweater vests has battled from the back of the pack to a surprise win in Iowa’s caucuses and a respectable 17 percent of the vote in South Carolina.

“A few weeks ago, this may have seemed implausible,” said Jack Glaser, a professor at University of California, Berkeley. “But with his showing in Iowa and Romney’s slide in South Carolina and with the very deep flaws and vulnerabilities in both Romney and Gingrich as candidates, it is not laughable.”

Moving on to Florida, Santorum picked up on attack lines he employed against his former congressional colleague last week. He called Gingrich “erratic” and “a very high-risk candidate” who is out of step with the many Republicans on Wall Street bailouts, health policy, immigration and global warming.

At a rally in Coral Springs on Sunday, Santorum laid claim to being “the real conservative – the (Ronald) Reagan model,” and said he was best placed to win what he termed “the states that matter” – 10 or 12 swing states, including Florida, that could be key to the November general election against Democratic President Barack Obama.

“His staying around is much to Romney’s delight and possibly Gingrich’s dismay. If Gingrich had his way, he would want Santorum out,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist.

“And Romney would say, ‘Oh, don’t leave the race so soon’ … It’s like Cold War politics: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Santorum could be playing off the roller-coaster nature of the Gingrich campaign, which has been declared next to dead a few times since spring, as well as Romney’s stumbles going into the South Carolina vote.

“I think he might think he has a shot. He’s one (state) for three and so is everyone else except Ron Paul,” said Chris Galdieri, a political science professor at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Santorum is in third place in Florida with about 15 percent support, behind Romney at 40 percent and Gingrich at 22 percent, according to surveys aggregated by Real Clear Politics. Those polls were taken before the South Carolina vote.

Michael Phillips, Santorum’s state director for Florida, said the campaign had only two offices for now, in Sarasota and in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, but had “very engaged” volunteers.

A SHOT AT REDEMPTION

“He might not be able to raise money, he might not be lining up endorsements in Florida, but he’s probably holding out hope that if Romney has a couple more bad weeks, it’s better to be in the game than out of it,” Galdieri said.

“He’s probably thinking that Gingrich, even though he won South Carolina, is not acceptable as a nominee because of various things in his personal and political background. He might be thinking that if a bunch of dominoes fall in the right order, he could be the other alternative candidate to Romney.”

Santorum has been praised by some for recent performances in Republican debates, and with fewer candidates on the podium as the field has dwindled, his national exposure will only rise as the debates roll on.

The four Republicans still standing will debate on Monday in Tampa and Thursday in Jacksonville.

Four more debates are scheduled by mid-March, all of which could better position Santorum for whatever comes next.

“He’s angling for some political capital, whether it’s a Cabinet position or it’s a run for another office down the road,” O’Connell said. “All you need is a plane ticket to move to the next spot. So why get out when you can still be a factor in this?”

Speaking on CNN on Sunday, Santorum said he felt “absolutely no pressure” to drop out, adding that after the South Carolina vote, Romney was “no longer the inevitable candidate.”

“Our feeling is that this is a three-person race. The conservatives are polling better than Governor Romney is. The real conservative is yet to emerge and that’s me. We think we present the finest opportunity for conservatives to win,” Santorum said.

In Coral Springs, the small crowd warmed to Santorum’s message. “We feel he’s genuine, more personable – more for the common citizen than for corporations,” said Lydia Usategui, 57, a psychiatrist from Miami.

Galdieri said there was a redemptive element to Santorum’s campaign. The social conservative lost his 2006 Senate re-election bid by a crushing margin.

“Instead of being the guy who lost by 18 points in his own state, he can be the guy who made a credible run,” Galdieri said.

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