Santorum takes his Iowa playbook to NH

HOLLIS, N.H. — Rick Santorum is taking his Iowa playbook to New Hampshire in the hopes that lightning strikes twice.

Santorum's old-school, shoe-leather campaign resulted in a virtual tie with Mitt Romney in last Tuesday's Iowa caucuses and the former Pennsylvania senator is using the same strategy in the first-in-the-nation primary state.

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There is no venue too small for Santorum, and no topic off limits. To the bewilderment of the pundits, Santorum is continuing to engage on the campaign trail in dense and often contentious policy discourse, rather than proffer the pithy one-liners that make surefire cable news fodder.

And Romney, who is posting a double-digit lead in the polls, is telling voters he's taking nothing for granted.

Speaking to supporters in Derry, N.H., Saturday morning, the former Massachusetts governor told them: "Don’t get too confident with those poll numbers. I’ve watched polls come and go. Things change very quickly. It’s very fluid. I need to make sure you guys get your friends to go out and vote, and you vote as well."

But Santorum, who attended mass before Saturday night's GOP presidential debate, is putting his faith in his message.


Instead of rejiggering it to focus solely on the economic issues that take top billing in New Hampshire, Santorum is attempting to make the case that social conservatism is the path to prosperity and that family values are economic values — not an easy argument to make in an East Coast swing state.

And while New Hampshire voters are generously showing up to see the man from Pennsylvania in the flesh, it’s unclear how much headway he has been able to make.

An asterisk in the Republican presidential race just weeks ago, Santorum had insufficient time between his shake-up performance in last week’s Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire’s Tuesday primary to run the glitzy campaign expected of a front-runner. All the television ad time has already been bought up, most of the state’s political heavyweights have already endorsed, and there’s little time to enlist new volunteers and organize a muscular get-out-the-vote operation.

So Santorum is employing the same bootstrap approach to campaigning in the Granite State that he did in Iowa, where he spent more time and held more events than any other candidate.

While the other candidates wrapped up morning events on Saturday and focused on preparing for a pair of weekend debates, Santorum trekked from event to event — four in total — in a black pickup truck, a far cry from the bus-and-caravan enlisted by his rivals.

“People say, ‘What do you do for debate prep?’” Santorum observed at a campaign stop in Hollis. “I say, ‘This. This is what I do.’”

So far, New Hampshire has been kind to the former Pennsylvania senator, and giving him the attention merited by Iowa triumph. His events on Saturday attracted hundreds of people, and the barn in Hollis where Santorum was scheduled to hold a town hall was so jam-packed that he held a second, impromptu appearance outdoors for those who couldn’t get a seat inside.

That Republican voters are giving Santorum a hard look in this moderate, economically-oriented state that seems an ideological mismatch for his family-values message shouldn’t be discounted. But neither should it be ignored that few of the voters showing up for Santorum seem to be solidly in his camp.

Making it more difficult for Santorum to gauge how well his strategy is working is that voters in New Hampshire, used to be showered with political attention come winter of every fourth year, want to see, hear and touch those who are eyeing the White House — even if they have no intention of voting for them.

“I’m not a Santorum fan,” said Deborah Lavoie of New Boston, N.H., who nonetheless showed up to see the presidential hopeful in person. “But I’ve met every single one of them since before Reagan. I like to look them in the eyes.”

At event after event in New Hampshire, the crowd has seemed to approach Santorum dubiously, intrigued by his energy and conviction but unsettled by his emphasis on societal ills unrelated to the economy. His one-liners have prompted more outbursts of disapproval than applause. He was booed after comparing gay marriage to polygamy. When he went after Romney on healthcare, one woman loudly demanded he focus instead on his own plan and why he was more electable than Romney.

And a participant at another event questioned how he could call himself a conservative when he wants the government to be more involved in deciding whether Americans can have an abortion or marry someone of the same gender.

But Santorum’s campaign is adamant that giving voters the naked truth — even when it seems less than politically expedient — is what allowed Santorum to conquer Iowa, and what will carry his success in states of all political persuasions.

John Brabender, a top Santorum strategist and longtime aide, recalled an event Santorum held with a union-heavy crowd that was predisposed to object to Santorum’s conservative message.

“It was amazing to see how many of them left and said, ‘You know what? I’m going to vote for this guy. I don’t necessary agree with him on everything, but on most things I do, and he took the time to explain to me why he did what he did,’” Brabender said.

Daily polling in New Hampshire from Suffolk University shows that Santorum’s upward climb that started after Iowa is leveling off and may have topped out. He is now battling Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman for third place behind Romney and Ron Paul.

“We have no pollster, nor will we. No one’s going to tell the senator what to say. He feels people can see through that,” said Brabender, in a thinly veiled reference to Romney.

Santorum has a difficult dance to do around how he campaigns in New Hampshire. If he appears to be all-in, it could prompt expectations that will be almost impossible for him to meet in a state that Romney has essentially had locked up for months. But if he lets the state go by without putting up a real fight, he loses some of the momentum that has thrust him into the spotlight.

He also risks losing the narrative to Romney, who will have amassed two consecutive wins if he is victorious in New Hampshire, and who a new CNN/Time poll shows has whizzed into first place in South Carolina, which will vote less than two weeks after New Hampshire.

Santorum is scheduled to campaign in South Carolina on Sunday, after he participates in a debate in Concord, N.H.

“The leader in this race fashions himself as, ‘I’m a CEO, I’m a manager.’ Washington doesn’t need a manager,” said Santorum, standing in the cold as about two hundred gathered around him in Amherst, N.H.

“Sure they do,” retorted a man at the back of the crowd.