Politics

Rick Santorum tries to capitalize on Iowa showing as New Hampshire primary looms

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Rick Santorum speaks to students at Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa, before the Iowa Caucuses on Tuesday. (Photo by Flickr user Gage Skidmore, cc-by-sa.)

Rick Santorum, come...on...down. You're the next contestant to face Mitt Romney for the GOP Presidential nomination.

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Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich have all taken their turn at the helm of the anyone-but-Mitt campaign, but now, after pushing Romney to a virtual tie in Iowa, Santorum is surging in popularity and is turning to New Hampshire to give him the sort of staying power that no previous Romney-challenger has had thus far.

Jeff Zeleny, national political reporter for The New York Times, said Santorum's key objective now is to try and win the New Hampshire primary — or at the very least chip away substantially at Romney's considerable lead. 

"He's trying to appeal to social conservatives, even to economic conservatives," Zeleny said. "Things are quite different then when he running in 2006. He definitely has some challenges in the long-term view."

In 2006, Santorum lost his bid to be re-elected to the Senate from Pennsylvania, which many attributed to his being too conservative for that electorate at that time. That won't be a problem in a Republican primary, Zeleny said.

"Too conservative is something — some Republicans wish they had that problem, and one of them is Mitt Romney, who's stil viewed skeptically by some conservatives in his party," he added.

Santorum's advisers are trying to set the expectation that his finishing in second or even third in New Hampshire would be a major victory coming out of Iowa, because of Romney's long ties to the Granite State. Romney owns a home in New Hampshire and has been campaigning there for months, if not years, really.

"In some respects, New Hampshire will probably be diminished this year because Mitt Romney is basically a hometown candidate," Zeleny said. "It's going to be important, it's going to be looked at, but South Carolina ... is also a place that will probably be more important than New Hampshire this year."

James O’Toole, a longtime political reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who has followed Santorum throughout hit career, said Santorum perhaps along among Republicans, was oddly confident that he would eventually catch fire.

"A lot of it was just luck, that he made himself the beneficiary of by working so hard these past few months," O'Toole said. "I think he really benefitted from the fact that all the other conservatives were in a sort of circular firing squad, and because people weren't shooting at him he was able to move through the negative vacuum the campaign has created."