Santorum campaign message has some worried about focus

Republican strategist Mark McKinnon, who is unaffiliated with any candidate, gave a critical assessment of the Santorum campaign's focus.

"It's just a classic example of a campaign and a candidate being totally overwhelmed and unprepared to have the spotlight shining so brightly. And why having been around the presidential track before, as Romney has, is such an advantage," McKinnon wrote in an email to The Hill. "His message has been all over the map."

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But Santorum has been under attack, too. Romney, and a super-PAC that supports him, have been relentless in attacking Santorum, particularly his voting record in the Senate. Newt Gingrich has been challenging him for the conservative wing of the party, and Ron Paul has hit Santorum heavily for supporting earmarks.

The former Pennsylvania senator entered the presidential race on a shoestring budget and skeleton staff. Instead of a major campaign rollout, like what Romney did, Santorum focused on retail politicking in one state — Iowa, which he won. But the delays in counting the caucuses there meant Santorum wasn't declared the winner until two weeks later, depriving him of some early momentum.

Santorum has used his subsequent rise in the race to argue that he's the underdog candidate facing off against a wealthy, established, moderate Republican elite who can't appeal to blue-collar workers.

On a conference call with reporters on Monday, Santorum said of the nominating contest: "To suggest this is David and Goliath is probably a little bit of an understatement."
 
While on the campaign trail, Santorum has attacked Romney and Obama both on the economy and healthcare while also running a campaign that emphasizes social issues. The result appears to be a mixed message to voters.

"A first rate campaign is able to roll out a message in a multitiered, multifaceted, disciplined way," Mackowiak said. "It's a range of things, social media, a blast email and that's how you sustain a message. And from what I've seen, Santorum seems to revel in the fact that he doesn't have a speech writer, that he doesn't have a teleprompter and sure, that's a strength. It's a strength until it's a weakness."

But, Mackowiak said, right now Romney's campaign versus Santorum's campaign seems to be a mismatch.

"I'm not trying to come out critical of the Santorum campaign because I'm very impressed with what they've done with so little to work with," Mackowiak said. "It seems to me right now, Santorum's playing checkers and Romney's playing chess."

Hogan Gidley, communications director for Santorum, bristled at the argument. The campaign plans to focus on energy and gas issues after Super Tuesday, and Gidley says this isn't a digression from the campaign's angle so far.

"They're linked. Energy consumption, energy production — that's an economic issue. … But at the same time, it's a national security issue. We're beholden to another country for a vital piece of our economy," Gidley said.

Gidley said the campaign has consistently presented Santorum as the only true conservative in the race.

"We have pushed the fact that Rick Santorum is the only full spectrum conservative in this race," Gidley added.

Even with the stumbles and a wide margin between the number of delegates Romney has and the number Santorum has (Romney has more), Santorum is voicing nothing but optimism in public. He's repeatedly noted that despite having a much leaner campaign compared to Romney's, he's the former Massachusetts governor's chief rival.

"Money's not going to buy this election," Santorum said at a campaign stop in Ohio earlier this week. "The best ideas that win the American people is going to win this election."