Will Santorum's Long Iowa Slog Pay Off?

Will Santorum's Long Iowa Slog Pay Off?

By Scott Conroy - October 25, 2011

Rick Santorum doesn't do gimmicks.

He doesn't have a catchy slogan that rings in voters' heads like a commercial jingle, he's not trying to sell a new book or movie while ostensibly campaigning, and he doesn't travel on a bus with a giant picture of his face painted on the exterior.

On the day when Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich square off against one another in a “modified Lincoln-Douglas debate” in Houston next month, Santorum likely will be hundreds of miles away, somewhere in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina.

In a campaign that has seen underdog Republican contenders try to carve unorthodox paths to the White House, Santorum has gone about his campaign the traditional way.

He has spent the better part of the last year doing the unglamorous work of slowly but surely trying to earn the support of the early-state Republicans who often defy national narratives.

According to the Des Moines Register, Santorum has held 164 events in Iowa -- 74 more than Michele Bachmann, his closest competitor in that regard.

From afar, it is difficult to see any discernible momentum for Santorum in Iowa -- the state where he must exceed expectations in order to continue his long-shot candidacy. He has not topped 5 percent in any recent Iowa poll and is not often discussed by national political observers as a viable prospect, even in the Hawkeye State.

But Iowa Republicans have taken notice of the former Pennsylvania senator’s efforts in the state and are beginning to spread the word that he has a real chance to reap the rewards of his low-key toils come January.

“I think it is paying off for him,” Becky Beach, a veteran Iowa Republican fundraiser who remains unaligned in the race, said of Santorum’s efforts. “He’s not having huge or flamboyant events, but he’s getting people to attend that go to the caucuses. I’m not sure the polls are going to reflect it, but I do think he’s certainly getting a lot of second looks.”

After a recent hiring spree, Santorum now has nine paid staffers in Iowa and last week unveiled a list of 189 volunteer county organizers who will serve as all-important captains on caucus day.

While other campaigns have focused their relatively limited travel on the state’s population centers, Santorum has spent much of his time meeting small groups in far-flung rural enclaves, and he intends to visit all 99 Iowa counties by Jan. 3.

“At this point, we’re building the organization in order to get that future windfall,” said Santorum’s national campaign manager, Mike Biundo. “You may not see an uptick in the polls now, but that’s fine with us. The organization we’re building and the get-out-the-vote effort is going to serve us well in Iowa.”

Biundo espoused confidence that the campaign will have enough resources to compete on caucus day. But as Rick Perry’s campaign prepares to launch its first ad blitz in the state, there is reason to wonder whether Santorum will have even the modest financial means that may be required to pull off the massive upset.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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