Rick Santorum Needs Money, Organization Post-Iowa

Experts: Santorum needs to capitalize on Iowa win.

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Though he lost the Iowa GOP presidential caucus by eight votes, most political observers say Rick Santorum is still a winner. But in order to prove he is a viable conservative alternative to front-runner former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the former Pennsylvania senator has to try capitalize on his strong finish. Experts say his top priority should be fundraising and organizing support, while staving off the inevitable press scrutiny and likely attacks from opponents.

"He's being viewed as a wonder boy right now who came out of single digits to almost beat the giant, Romney. Now we're going to see how Santorum weathers the massive unveiling of attacks," says Ron Bonjean, a D.C.-based GOP consultant.

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Though New Hampshire voters are the next to weigh in, Bonjean says it's South Carolina that deserves most of Santorum's attention.

"He has to send out basically a call to arms among all conservatives to ask for help from every conservative organization that he can think of to help him put together an infrastructure on the ground as quickly as possible because time is not on his side," he says.

Rather than focusing on Iowa, Romney has put most of his time and effort into wooing New Hampshire voters and enjoys a double-digit lead over his rivals in the Granite state. Santorum's social conservative brand holds less appeal in the northern state than it does in Iowa and South Carolina, both of which are home to strong evangelical communities.

"In South Carolina, somebody like Santorum can turn 'em on," says David Woodard, a political science professor at Clemson University and former GOP consultant. "What I'm noticing about him is that he's not talking about economic issues. He's hitting on cultural issues. A lot of people are appealing to the economic side in the voters' head, but Santorum is going for the heart. And I tell you that works down here."

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Other South Carolina political operatives say Santorum has a good ground game already in the Palmetto state and now needs to introduce himself to voters on his own terms.

"Santorum has a strong base of support, it's just a matter of if he can capitalize and maximize what happened last night," says a South Carolina Republican operative who used to work for Herman Cain and preferred to speak on background. "That's going to be a huge challenge. I understand they are ramping up and racing. It's a matter of them building the infrastructure to catch up with the momentum."

Woodard, who also oversees the university's primary polling, says Santorum is largely unknown to voters and must tell his own story rather than wait for the media to introduce him.

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"The question is, can he get enough money to get his message out down here?" he says. "I think there's a real upside to him if he can get his message out, and that's a big if."

The GOP operative and former Cain staffer says the January 21 South Carolina primary will provide the definitive answer to what the race will look like going forward.

"South Carolina is going to be the last stand for a lot of candidates. Conservatives realize the jig is up. Going forward, it's either going to be Romney or it's going to be someone else," he says. "[Conservatives] have to start rallying now. The dance is almost over; you need to pick the person you want to go home with."

Email: rmetzler@usnews.com

Twitter: @rebekahmetzler