Rick Santorum: Will Iowa 'rocket boost' propel him in New Hampshire?

For Rick Santorum, a near-tie with Mitt Romney in Iowa shows strength among evangelical conservatives. But New Hampshire is different, and Santorum has just six days to make his mark.

John Gress/Reuters
Republican presidential candidate and former US Sen. Rick Santorum campaigns in Iowa on the eve of his near-tie with Mitt Romney to lead the Iowa caucuses results.

Rick Santorum may have gotten a “rocket boost” out of Iowa, as one political commentator puts it, but next Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary could bring him back to earth.

His near-tie with Mitt Romney in Iowa can certainly help the former Pennsylvania senator outperform his polling in the Granite State – just 5 percent support in a Suffolk University poll conducted among likely GOP voters on Jan. 1 and 2.

But with little money and a small organization on the ground here, a week is not much time to capitalize on the surge of attention he’ll receive. And the demographics here aren’t as natural a fit for Mr. Santorum’s socially conservative message as they were in Iowa.

The support Santorum has galvanized here is largely based on his antiabortion stance, but there are fewer voters here for whom that’s a top priority, political science experts say.

“The independents here are going to make a big difference, and I don’t believe Santorum plays as well [with them] as he does with the corn-fed evangelical Christians in Iowa,” says Patrick Griffin, an unaligned Republican strategist and senior fellow at St. Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics.

Santorum, who was expected to arrive in New Hampshire for campaign events Wednesday, does have some factors working to his advantage. 

His national campaign manager, Mike Biundo, is from New Hampshire and has been involved with campaigns here before. Santorum also has at least 23 state legislators endorsing him.

And the retail politicking that paid off for him in Iowa is often rewarded by voters here as well. Santorum can be credited for “working very hard here in the first six months of the year ... but since then he’s hardly been here at all,” says Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party.

“There was a cost to him getting all those votes” in Iowa, adds Linda Fowler, a political scientist at Dartmouth College. “He was there all the time.”

Back when Jimmy Carter was able to use Iowa as a springboard, he had about a month before the New Hampshire vote, Professor Fowler says. “Santorum’s got six days.”

That’s barely enough time to process checks from supporters to pay for more air time in the intense media wars about to be unleashed. And some of that media barrage will certainly be directed against Santorum by supporters of Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney as Santorum moves into the “white hot intensity at the center of the political universe,” Mr. Griffin says.

Santorum campaigners say they’ll make a strong push in the state, including running some television ads.

He’s also helped by the fact that Michele Bachmann has ended her campaign and Rick Perry is leap-frogging to South Carolina.

While Romney’s lead in New Hampshire might be too big to overcome – he was at 43 percent in the Suffolk poll, with his nearest competitor, Ron Paul, at 16 percent – besting Paul or Newt Gingrich (9 percent) may be enough to keep the steam in Santorum’s campaign.

“What he wants out of New Hampshire is to beat the expectations game,” says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

That could give him time to raise money and capitalize on the strong Christian conservative support he could galvanize in the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary, Professor Sabato says.

But it’s still be an uphill battle for Santorum, as it was for other candidates who didn’t have enough preparation in terms of money or volunteer troops. “You can ride the wave, but eventually the wave crashes into the beach and you have to have ability to swim out again to catch another wave,” Sabato says.

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