What Rick Santorum needs to do to keep momentum

For Rick Santorum, now comes the hard part: raising enough money and building enough organization to compete effectively in the coming contests.

By , Staff writer

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    Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a primary night watch party on Feb. 7, in St. Charles, Mo.

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If Rick Santorum was ever going to reemerge as a serious presidential contender, it had to be Tuesday. And he delivered, with stunning victories in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri.

Now comes the hard part: raising enough money and building enough organization to compete effectively in the coming contests – two on Feb. 28 and 10 on Super Tuesday, March 6.

The Internet makes the first task remotely possible. Overnight, Mr. Santorum says, he raised a quarter of a million dollars.

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

“So we’re doing really well and we feel like going forward, we’re going to have the money we need to make the case we want to make,” the former Pennsylvania senator said on CNN Wednesday morning.

But the reality is that the wounded Mitt Romney still has a formidable war chest, outside groups raising big money to support him with ads, and a vast organization. He raised 25 times more money than Santorum in the fourth quarter of 2011. All last year, Mr. Romney raised $56 million to Santorum’s $2.1 million.

After Santorum was declared the winner of the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, more than two weeks after the fact, his fundraising picked up. In January alone, he brought in $4.2 million, according to his campaign. 

Another challenge before Santorum is the continued presence of Newt Gingrich in the race. If Mr. Gingrich were to drop out, Santorum suggests that he would have a clean shot at Romney, as the sole mainstream conservative in the race.

Indeed, Gingrich was not on the ballot in Missouri’s nonbinding primary, and Santorum won a whopping 55 percent, versus 25 percent for Romney and 12 percent for Ron Paul.

But after Tuesday’s poor finish, the former House speaker has shown no sign of giving up. He campaigned Wednesday in Ohio, which holds its primary on Super Tuesday.

“Gingrich is not about to sail quietly into the night, and his bombast makes it hard for the media to ignore him,” author Jay Cost told Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online. “It hurts that the debates have basically stopped. That gets in the way of dethroning Gingrich, as well as overcoming Romney’s money edge.”

The next debate is on Feb. 22 in Mesa, Ariz. The following contests, the Arizona and Michigan primaries, are on Feb. 28. Romney is expected to do well in both states: Arizona has a large Mormon population and Michigan is where Romney was born and raised, and where his father served as governor.

Santorum says he will focus on Michigan over Arizona, because Michigan awards delegates proportionally, whereas Arizona is winner-take-all. If Santorum can do well in Michigan, home turf of sorts for Romney, that will send a signal he’s a serious player.

Ultimately, Republican analysts still see Santorum as a long shot for the nomination, owing to his small war chest and organization. And in future contests, they don’t see Romney taking anything for granted as he did with Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri.

“Last night's result exposed the weaknesses in Romney's campaign more than the viability of Santorum's bid,” says Ford O’Connell, head of the conservative CivicForumPAC. “Romney is still the odds-on-favorite because ... neither Santorum or Newt has laid the proper foundation to go toe-to-toe with Mitt.”

The problem for Romney is his message, Republicans say. Robert Reilly, a former Reagan administration official, suggests that Romney find “the vision thing,” as the first President Bush called it – an elusive commodity whose absence has felled many a president.

Romney’s case for the presidency is his business experience, but voters are looking for something more, Mr. Reilly writes in The Wall Street Journal.

“If you cannot articulate the cause for which you are fighting in moral terms,” says Reilly, “you will lose.”

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