Debate Club

Rick Santorum Can Still Win Over GOP's Heart

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For most of the evening, the Iowa caucus felt like the 2000 election where it was too close to call. With just an eight-vote difference, the Republicans found themselves with two winners last night: former Gov. Mitt Romney and former Sen. Rick Santorum.

After pouring millions of dollars in ads, Romney can claim victory in Iowa, but will it mean he's a lock for the nomination? Among his continued strengths are a disciplined team, fundraising, organization, and the continuing dynamic of the "Anyone but Mitt" vote being split by a chorus of conservative opponents. For these reasons and others, Romney will be hard to beat, and his team is not counting on Iowa or any one state to deliver the nomination. Romney also has another advantage with a front-loaded schedule; it may be tough for his chief opponent, Rick Santorum, to raise and spend the money fast enough to stop Romney's momentum.

[See pictures of the GOP Candidates Heading to the Iowa Caucus.]

But Senator Rick Santorum is back. He has regained his footing as a major conservative leader and has gained a new level of respect among Republicans. He should feel particularly proud of the fact that the sheer level of his immense personal talent achieved his moral victory in Iowa. Santorum made a commitment of time to Iowans and worked each vote. A candidate of lesser talent would have never been able to make this happen. He was marginalized in debates, but he repeated strong performances and he built trust among the Iowans. Santorum has become the candidate who has captured the "heart" of conservatives. His victory speech last night may be the most moving spontaneous political speech given by a conservative since the days of Reagan. As we move into New Hampshire, we need to remember that Santorum won elections in a blue state by still sticking to his conservative principles and appealing to a diverse constituency. They always knew where Santorum stood, and he earned their trust even while he became a national conservative leader. He cannot be accused of being a flip-flopper. Although it will be harder for Santorum to win the nomination, he will fight hard and continue to connect with the conservative voters, something that Romney has had a harder time doing.

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Now the courtship begins between Santorum and the Republicans. Will the Republican voters swoon for Santorum's personal narrative and proven conservative record or will they stick with Romney as the one who in the polls shows that he can beat Obama? If Romney is the candidate that "logic" tells Republicans is the strongest versus Obama, his challenge is to rival Santorum as the candidate of the "heart." Romney has to connect with the voters both emotionally and intellectually to secure the nomination and build the support he needs through the general election. If Romney fails to connect and other conservative candidates drop out, then Santorum could have a chance to shed the sweater vest for Bermuda shorts as the races extend to Florida and beyond.

Mercedes Schlapp

About Mercedes Schlapp Cofounder of Cove Strategies

Tags
Santorum, Rick
2012 presidential election
Romney, Mitt
Iowa caucus

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