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Santorum Gearing Up "as If I'm Running" in 2016

Santorum Gearing Up "as If I'm Running" in 2016

By Scott Conroy - October 15, 2014

In Republican presidential politics, achieving runner-up status is often a sign of bigger things to come.  

Five of the last six men who became the Republican nominee had finished in second place during a previous White House run. 

But for Rick Santorum, being the last GOP candidate standing against Mitt Romney in 2012 has not boosted his clout in the 2016 speculation game. 

It’s a dynamic that Santorum has tried to take in stride as he ponders whether to take another shot at the Oval Office. 

“Every race I’ve ever run, when the race was over, all of the experts said, ‘Oh, that was a fluke,’” Santorum told RealClearPolitics in an interview on Tuesday. “When it happened early in my political career, it used to frustrate me. Now I just see it for the advantage that it is, and it’s a tremendous advantage for me.” 

Santorum spoke by phone from South Dakota where he is slated to appear at a Wednesday event in support of that state’s former governor Mike Rounds. Once considered a shoe-in for the open South Dakota Senate seat, Rounds now has a real race on his hands against Democrat Rick Weiland and independent Larry Pressler, and Santorum’s appearance on the Republican’s behalf is designed to help rally conservatives to Rounds’ cause.

Santorum has quietly been helping other embattled GOP candidates up for election next month, while keeping his own sights trained on 2016.  

“I’m doing everything right now as if I’m running,” he said. “So we’re moving forward and trying to line up supporters -- both grassroots and donors. We’re talking to folks who might be interested after the [midterm] election to come and help the team, so we’re starting to put the pieces together, but we’re not going to make the final decision until 2015.” 

Santorum added that he does not expect to make up his mind in the early part of next year, because he expects measures that the Republican National Committee has taken to shorten the nominating calendar will delay the official start of the campaign.  

But if and when he gets in, Santorum expects to turn heads once again.  

“The greatest blessing I’ve had in politics is being underestimated and overlooked. And it’s happening again, and I’m very grateful,” he said. “I know we have a strong base of support, and I think when we have an opportunity to show our message, that base will grow and will be in places that no one will expect.” 

Asked about several recent stories suggesting that Romney might be persuaded to consider a third presidential run -- after insisting repeatedly that he has no interest in doing so -- Santorum offered only a brief comment. 

“The more the merrier,” he said of the man with whom he tussled throughout the first half of 2012.   

But the former Pennsylvania senator offered a more revealing response in discussing another potential rival: former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, whom he called a “good man” who was “a strong candidate in 2008.”  

Though Santorum emphasized the wide spectrum of Republican support he himself won in 2012, he also acknowledged that there is “certainly some overlap” between his core voters and Huckabee’s. 

Asked if he would consider having a conversation with Huckabee about which of them should run again in 2016, Santorum said, “Never say never.” 

“At this point in the game, I think it’s sort of early to have one of those kinds of conversations, if we were ever to have one of those conversations,” he added. “But we want to make sure we have a path to the nomination, and we’re right now in the process of trying to lay that out.”

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

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