Rick Santorum's New Target: Gingrich's Reagan Credentials

Santorum will attack Gingrich as nomination race tightens.


After his big boost in the Iowa caucuses, Rick Santorum has been fading fast. Ahead of next Tuesday's primary, he's polling at around 11 percent in Florida, and his national numbers aren't much better.

Still, on Thursday Santorum told reporters at Florida State University that he is "going to be in this race for a long time."

[Who Is Rick Santorum?]

Although his prospects are growing increasingly dimmer, Santorum will still be in a position to have an influence on the race after Florida, as whoever finishes in second gets nothing—not even a sweater vest—in the winner-take-all primary.

He's planning a new line of attack moving forward: Newt Gingrich is the wrong man for the nomination.

John Brabender, Santorum's top strategist explained their new method.

"We will be sharpening our claims against Gingrich—particularly that he's a conservative and particularly that he's a Reagan conservative," he says. "We think he's trying to remake himself, and we're not going to let him do that."

[Why Newt Gingrich Can't Sustain Momentum.]

Gingrich has wrapped himself in the Reagan mantle more than any of the other candidates, never missing an opportunity to remind the public of the time he spent working with the former president. The New York Times' Nate Silver reported this week that Gingrich has mentioned Ronald Reagan 55 times in the GOP debates—more than the other candidates combined—and he shows no signs of toning down the name-dropping.

Brabender explained that part of Santorum's strategy will be to attack Gingrich for supporting bank bailouts, amnesty for illegal immigrants and so-called "cap and trade" energy legislation—policies that Reaganites detest.

He also thinks that a Gingrich win in Florida would cause big problems.

"I think people think Gingrich isn't for real yet—if he wins Florida we'll see more panic. I think we'll see somewhat disarray in the Republican Party if that happens," Brabender explained.

[Is Newt Gingrich Right About Going to the Moon?]

Still, a Gingrich win might actually be the best case for Santorum.

Larry Sabato, Director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, thinks that Romney is going to have a great February, spelling disaster for Santorum. That is, if Mitt Romney takes Florida, he'll be in an excellent position to roll through Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri in early February while the conservative base rallies around Gingrich, Romney's current serious challenger.

"If Romney wins that's it for Santorum," Sabato says. "Paul may have a way to win, Gingrich still has a way to win. Santorum would be the odd man out."

But Santorum's camp remains optimistic.

"You run the campaign you can run. If you swing for the fences you're going to strike out a lot," Brabender explained. "We're going to do the most with the at-bats we have left."