Why Mitt Romney isn't worried about Rick Santorum, yet

Rick Santorum's wins in Minnesota, Colorado, and Missouri aren't going to mean much unless Santorum can raise more money, says DCDecoder.

By , DCDecoder

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    Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum at a rally Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012, in Plano, Texas.
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Rick Santorum piled up as many victories on Tuesday – in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri – as Mitt Romney has in the campaign to date. If you’re like Decoder, then you’ve been plowing through gigabytes of digital knowledge on what this means for the GOP presidential race.

With March (and its ensuing madness, of the basketball variety) right around the corner, let’s use a quick analogy to explain what happened Tuesday night.

Mr. Santorum is the gritty mid-major school that no brand-name hoops team wants to play. Why? Because the big school doesn’t gain anything by winning but stands to lose a lot if it comes up short.

Recommended: Election 101: Rick Santorum makes a bid for the White House

In college hoops, it doesn’t help the University of North Carolina to beat Creighton – they’re UNC! They’re supposed to beat Creighton! (Quick: What state is Creighton in?) But if a tough Bluejays team holds on for a win … oh boy. Then you’ve got a story.

Mr. Romney (UNC) didn’t want to play Santorum (Creighton) in Tuesday’s bouts.

Remember: When Newt Gingrich surged in Iowa, Mitt Romney blew him away with a crush of advertising.

After Mr. Gingrich struck another blow in South Carolina, Romney buried him under a massive hail of advertisements (again) in Florida.

Romney did no such thing leading up to the voting on Tuesday. The Romney campaign’s memo on their strategy lays this out quite plainly, with political director Rich Beeson writing, “It is difficult to see what Governor Romney’s opponents can do to change the dynamics of the race in February.” 

If there’s little in it for Romney’s foes, the argument could continue that there’s very little in it for Romney, too.

But what about the fact that Santorum didn’t (necessarily) win any delegates to the national nominating convention?

Missouri’s contest was a true beauty contest, a nonbinding vote ahead of another contest later in the schedule. In Colorado and Minnesota, delegates aren’t bound by the vote.

This matters not a bit at this point. Romney, your delegate leader, has 90. Santorum, in second, has 44 (assuming some delegates from his Tuesday wins do accrue to him). With north of 1,100 needed to secure the nomination, there are zounds of delegates to go before the candidates can rest. Delegates, at this point in the campaign, are being used as a stand-in for a candidate’s viability. And viability means "being able to actually win the support of Republicans in an American state." (Sorry Ron Paul, you really haven’t come close to winning anywhere yet.)

So how does Santorum go from being pesky Creighton to a mighty title contender?

That’s simple: Raise money. Tons of it.

If Santorum is going to hold his own, he’s got to be able to (a) punch back against Romney’s initial attack lines, which will be drawn in the coming weeks, and (b) more important, get his organization together. Organization and money will be key for the two states voting in late February, Arizona and Michigan, where Romney has distinct advantages (lots of Mormons in the former, his family legacy in the latter). And those two commodities will get more precious on Super Tuesday, March 6, when more than 437 delegates will be at stake across 10 states.

Will Santorum’s Tuesday wins mean anything going forward? The answer to that question isn’t going to be counted immediately in how many delegates he won. The answer, instead, will be best determined by whether he gets the financial support necessary to begin to

— by David Grant / @DW_Grant

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