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Can Santorum Translate His Iowa Triumph Into N.H. Success?

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
January 4, 2012

Rick Santorum’s stunning finish in Iowa’s Republican presidential caucuses Tuesday breathed life into his dogged campaign and had his New Hampshire supporters dreaming of a top-three spot for him in next week’s Granite State primary.

But the path to a good finish in New Hampshire is not an easy one. Santorum’s evangelical bona fides are bound to matter much less than in Iowa. And Mitt Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, has consistently held wide leads in preference polls.

“Santorum has almost no organization in New Hampshire,” says Fergus Cullen, a former state GOP chairman. “He worked very hard here in the first six months, but has almost nothing to show for it.”

And, remember, Cullen added: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the ordained minister and evangelical candidate who won the Iowa presidential caucuses four years ago, came to New Hampshire fresh off the big win and pulled in just 11 percent of the vote.

It was, however, good enough for third place behind eventual nominee Sen. John McCain. Huckabee and second-place finisher Romney stayed in the race until March of 2008.

Even supporters of the former Pennsylvania senator, who gathered at his state headquarters in Bedford to watch results come in Tuesday night, admit that Santorum’s odds of a good showing in New Hampshire are daunting.

They envision, however, a newly revived battle for third place in the Jan. 10 primary. With Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who finished third in Iowa, running a comfortable one-two in state presidential preference polls, the third-place tussle pits Santorum (currently weighing in around 4 percent in most New Hampshire polls) against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

Huntsman skipped the Iowa caucuses to focus on New Hampshire.

“Rick has the tinder on the ground in New Hampshire and South Carolina to make up for the starting out money we didn’t have that others did,” said state Rep. Dan Tamburello, a Santorum state campaign co-chair.

“He’s been campaigning here since at least last February, and has built very solid grass-roots support.”

Tamburello says that, at this point, he expects Romney to win, but believes that Santorum will have “strong propulsion going into South Carolina” if he finishes ahead of Gingrich, Huntsman, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

The South Carolina primary is Jan. 21.

Bachmann is not campaigning in New Hampshire. Perry, who also planned to bypass the state in favor of campaigning in South Carolina, canceled those plans and headed back to Texas to reassess his candidacy.

Gingrich, however, made clear in his speech in Iowa Tuesday night that he planned to compete hard in New Hampshire, and that Romney would be his target.

For Santorum, a devout Catholic who would ban abortion and same-sex marriage, the tough numbers and the short turnaround between the caucuses and New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary suggest that even a third-place finish may be out of reach.

New Hampshire primary poll averages are showing Romney preferred by 41 percent of those surveyed. Paul is at 18.8 percent, Gingrich, 12.5 percent, and Huntsman, 10.8 percent. Santorum has languished near the bottom in the low single digits with Bachmann and Perry.

Interviews this week with prospective New Hampshire primary voters also suggested little overt enthusiasm for Santorum.

“Romney looks the strongest to me,” said Rick Robinson of Epping, a part-time pastor. “I don’t know enough about Santorum. I try to separate politics from religion and look at for the best man to be president.”

“However, I still want to see these last debates,” he said. Two televised debates are planned for this weekend before the New Hampshire vote.

Said Frank Pinney of Dover, after he checked out Huntsman at an event Monday: “I don’t think Rick Santorum’s going to match the culture of the people of New Hampshire.”

But there was joy in Bedford at Santorum central Tuesday night, where their guy’s win in the first presidential contest of the 2012 election season was to be savored.

“Forty-five votes up, and not one hanging chad!” someone called out at 10:48 p.m., as the newest batch of numbers were tallied up by Fox News.

“In New Hampshire, it’s going to be tougher — it’s not like the heartland, where matters of faith are more important as an important issue,” said Rep. Gary Hopper of Weare. “Those issues don’t carry a lot of water in New Hampshire.”

“But I think he’s going to gain a lot tonight, and now news people will give him more time to expound on his ideas,” Hopper says. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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