Santorum searching for supporters in Congress

Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign is stepping up its outreach to Republicans on Capitol Hill and expects that more lawmakers will soon endorse the former senator. 

“There are a number of members who are now close to coming on board, and we expect these numbers to increase in the coming weeks,” said a source close to the campaign, who noted that Santorum’s wins in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri have changed the political dynamic. 

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A long list of congressional endorsements is traditionally seen as the mark of a presidential front-runner. Now that Santorum has soared to the top of national polls, his allies are looking for status symbols to cement his position. 

The GOP establishment in Washington, however, has been firmly behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has attracted 77 endorsements from congressional Republicans.

Endorsements rarely make the difference between winning and losing primaries and caucuses, but having high-profile surrogates is a clear sign of a campaign’s strength. 

“When this thing first started, not many of us thought Rick would be in contention — he didn’t have the money and didn’t seem to be in a position to move up. Now I think a lot of people might change their minds,” said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). “He’s certainly shown himself to be increasing effectively as a candidate.” DeMint backed Romney in 2008, though he has stayed neutral this year.

Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), one of three members of Congress who has endorsed Santorum, agrees.

“There are probably a lot of people taking a second look,” he said. 

There are still obstacles to lawmakers rushing to support Santorum. Doing so now after writing him off earlier in the race could be seen as opportunistic. And it could backfire if he fades like other GOP presidential candidates who shot to the top of the polls in recent months. 

Terry Holt, who served as a senior strategist to former President George W. Bush’s campaigns, said, “In a close fight, the easiest thing for members to do is stay out of it. It avoids the risk of irritating the candidate who comes out on top.”


“Presidential contests are full of surprises. This time especially there’s been a flavor of the month. The taste is very good during that month and the question is, ‘How long will it last?’ ” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former presidential candidate who has not endorsed in the 2012 primary.  

He said Romney has “shown a lot of durability” and run a “well-planned” campaign. He suggested there is lingering skepticism about Santorum, who lost his 2006 Senate reelection bid by 18 percentage points to Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.). 

Polls show Santorum has leapfrogged Romney among Republican voters nationwide and even built a lead in Michigan, where Romney grew up and his father served as governor. 

A CBS News/New York Times poll this week showed Santorum with 30 percent support among GOP voters across the country, ahead of Romney’s 27 percent. An American Research Group poll found Santorum leading Romney in Michigan, 33 percent to 27. The Michigan primary will take place Feb. 28.

Despite Santorum’s surge, lawmakers have kept their distance. Six Republican senators who served with Santorum in the upper chamber have backed Romney, including Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Orrin Hatch (Utah) and John Thune (S.D.).

Republican lawmakers don’t fear a Santorum nomination as much as they do Newt Gingrich getting the nod. 

While a handful of GOP legislators have personally attacked the former Speaker, none has gone after Santorum in the same manner.

Former Senate colleagues said Santorum sometimes angered his colleagues by standing firmly on principle, but was also respected for his passion.  

“He did make some Republicans mad when he was here. He was a very forceful voice, which I appreciate,” said DeMint, who has broken with party leaders on a range of issues.

Most GOP officials on Capitol Hill believe Romney would help them retain control of the House and boost their chances of winning a majority in the Senate.

The three House GOP lawmakers who have publicly backed Santorum all hail from Pennsylvania: Reps. Lou Barletta, Tom Marino and Thompson. The only Pennsylvania Republican lawmaker who has backed Romney is centrist Rep. Jim Gerlach.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) has contributed to Santorum’s campaign, but has not endorsed the former  No. 3 GOP leader in the Senate.

Romney’s struggles to close out his competition have raised some eyebrows in the halls of Congress.

“There’s a presumptive winner that’s not that presumptive now,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a Romney critic who endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) for president. 

Until recently, Santorum’s allies have done little to solicit endorsements in Congress, even though the candidate served 12 years in the Senate and two terms in the House.

“The farther you get outside of Washington, the more people think Santorum has a chance. If you get inside the Beltway, they don’t think he has much of a chance,” said Chip Saltsman, a Republican political consultant who managed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign.

A spokesman for Santorum’s campaign declined to comment for this article.