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Santorum Looking To Leverage Momentum

Fresh off of his 'Iowa Surprise,' Rick Santorum's campaign has big plans for South Carolina.

 

Just a few days ago, the South Carolina headquarters of Rick Santorum’s campaign was little more than two full-time staffers in a quiet professional building a few minutes from downtown Charleston.

But on Wednesday, the day after Santorum’s strong second-place finish in Iowa pushed him from also-ran to contender status, the office is a symphony of ringing phones as newfound supporters cycle through the building.

“I locked the door last night at 1:45 a.m.,” said Kathy Hughes, a retired teacher and Santorum volunteer. “The energy has just been amazing. People are calling constantly. They’re full of energy and enthusiasm.”

Hughes got little more than six hours sleep before returning to the office Wednesday to field calls and talk to supporters. Santorum’s full-time South Carolina staffers are in Iowa and New Hampshire this week, assisting with the operation there, she said.

“I think Rick can win in South Carolina,” Hughes said. “People are listening to every word these candidates are saying, and it shows they are really using their heads.”

Santorum, the 53-year-old former senator from Pennsylvania, used his strong appeal to evangelicals and social conservatives in Iowa, and there are strong feelings in his South Carolina campaign that he has a chance to duplicate that success in the Palmetto State.

"After last night, you saw a dramatic change," said former U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, chairman of Santorum's South Carolina campaign. "We saw Santorum go into the top tier group. In fact, in the long run, I think it will be Santorum and (Mitt) Romney."

If Santorum has an advantage over any of the other heavy-hitters in the field in South Carolina, it is that he's invested significant face time with voters there, having made more appearances in South Carolina than any other candidate. His success in Iowa was predicated upon a similar devotion to direct personal communication.

"It's impressive given how little money he had to spend. But Iowa has always been partial to face-to-face politics, and Santorum spent a lot of time in the state over the last two years," said Danielle Vinson, who chairs the political science department at Furman University in Greenville.

"For all the folks who were looking for an alternative to Romney, he was the last one standing.  He ran a smart campaign and made no major mistakes," she said.

Barrett said that while Santorum will spend the bulk of the next week in New Hampshire for that state's primaries on Jan. 10, he'll still have South Carolina on the front burner, with a "major rally" tentatively scheduled in Greenville sometime Sunday, just days before the New Hampshire elections.

Patch has since confirmed from sources within the campaign that Santorum is tentatively scheduled to  appear at the Chiefs Wings and Fire Water at 4 p.m.

Robert Oldendick, executive director of the Institute for Public Service and Policy Research at the University of South Carolina, believes Santorum is in a position to use the momentum from his '"Iowa surprise" to edge into the votes once commanded by departing U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, and Gov. Rick Perry, who is on the ropes after a poor showing at the caucuses.

"Despite the fact that Santorum's support in the polls had been increasing in the past several weeks, his strong showing in Iowa is a little surprising, and he appears to have been the beneficiary of the negative campaign ads that have targeted Newt Gingrich since he became the front-runner," Oldendick said. "The voting in Iowa established Santorum as the conservative alternative to Romney, and he is in the best position to pick up support if Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann decide to end their campaigns."

Charleston County GOP Chairwoman Lin Bennett was leaving the Santorum office around noon Wednesday.

Though she will not be endorsing a candidate, she thinks Santorum has good odds in South Carolina, especially with Rep. Michele Bachmann’s exit and with Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s poor showing in Iowa.

“Perry did so poorly there, and him staying in really dilutes the field,” Bennett said. “When the field is diluted, it hurts us. We have no place to coalesce.”

Santorum, though, with his conservative social agenda, can fill the void in Bachmann’s absence and with Perry’s campaign so damaged

“I’ve heard he has 44 of the 46 South Carolina counties with … a campaign representative in every one of those,” Bennett said. “Where you finish in New Hampshire is irrelevant. You can win New Hampshire or Iowa, but if you don’t win South Carolina, you don’t get the nomination.”

Barrett said Santorum will head to the Palmetto State the day after the New Hampshire primary, staying in South Carolina to campaign from Jan. 11 through the primary there on Jan. 21.

"Here's the way I see it. At one point there were two kinds of major groups," said Gresham, a former U.S. Congressman and a gubernatorial candidate in South Carolina in 2010. "There was the Gingrich-Romney-Paul group, and they were the top tier group, and then there was a group fighting for the Christian evangelical conservative, very hard-right folks.

"More than any other candidate, I think he is poised to do extremely, extremely well here in the next two weeks," Barrett said.

Perhaps more importantly, Santorum's fundraising has picked up after his strong performance in Iowa. His web page, wwww.ricksantorum.com, briefly went down due to the large volume of hits on the site's donation page.

"The phones were burning up today," Barrett said. "In South Carolina and in America, people love winners. They see Rick Santorum as a winner. I don't think money is going to be a problem."

State Campaign Co-Chair Greg Gregory said he believes Santorum is peaking at the right time, predicting as Barrett did that it will ultimately come down to Romney and Santorum.

"I think voters in South Carolina are right in his wheelhouse," Gregory said. "I think it will be between Santorum and Romney. I think those are the only two candidates thinking people believe can beat Obama. Ron Paul's got good libertarian ideas and his support is deep, but it's not wide enough to beat Obama. Only somebody like Santorum that's been successful in a blue state, winning statewide, really has the potential to beat Obama in the battleground states."

Supporters of Santorum outside his leadership organization, like salesman Brian Smith of Greenville can feel the groundswell.

"We've had a yard sign in our front yard for about six months now. We've been fully behind Santorum, and were just waiting for this to happen," Smith said.

"And it finally happened. We're very optimistic. The only thing is we've been let down by our governor, who is supporting Mitt Romney."

 

This article appeared in January 4, 2012.

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