Santorum Surges, Romney Shrugs: Why Mitt Isn’t Worried About Losing Iowa

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Jan. 2 2012 1:08 PM

Santorum Surges, Romney Shrugs

Why a Santorum caucus victory won’t change the race.

(Continued from Page 1)

“Arlen Specter,” grumbled the voter. “We know where he is today.”

“Yeah, out of the Senate,” said Santorum. “Thank God.” He explained, for possibly the 372nd time, that he endorsed Specter over Pat Toomey only to make sure Republicans held the Senate and could confirm judges. (Specter was set to take over the judiciary committee.) This was exactly what the Iowa caucuses were for: Voter by voter, Santorum was explaining himself to cynics, getting taken seriously.

Back in Atlantic, Romney had nothing to prove and few skeptics to prove it to. By the time he showed up, around 2:40 p.m., the diner contained more media than voters. So many TV cameras had been set up in a larger dining room that humans couldn’t actually use it, so Romney couldn’t speak there. The candidate perched on a stool—much better for cameras, anyway—and gave a 10-minute version of his stump, with more actual policy than usual.

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“We learn today that Iran has developed a nuclear rod, they say, for purposes of their power system,” said Romney. “Of course, it’s also a device that can be transformed into weaponry. They’ve also announced that they’ve tested a surface-to-air missile. This president came in with his own plan for Iran. He was going to engage with Iran. He was going to meet with Ahmadinejad.” He sneered the two verbs, as if Obama’s stupidity was churning up his stomach.

Romney met the diners one on one, chased by cameras fighting for comically bad views—lots of audio of the candidate, framed by the backs of voters’ heads. When he was done, Romney’s staff let the press know that he’d be taking on-camera questions, and a Three Stooges rush filled the doorways leading to the over-laden dining room of cameras. The fastest reporters got table space to plant their laptops. The cameramen shouted (politely) for everyone without a camera to “get down.” And then we waited. Photographers, cross-legged at the front of the room, commented on all of this with barnyard noise.

“Moooo!” they said. “Moooo!”

Romney arrived, game for five questions, one about why Republicans should choose him and not Santorum (“I’m a businessman,” of course), some about whether he’d blown it by not campaigning more like Santorum.

“Social conservatives here say you didn’t spend enough time reaching out to them,” said CNN’s Joe Johns. “Do you have any regrets, especially given the Santorum surge?”

“I’ve had the privilege of going across the state,” said Romney, “and meeting people across Iowa, the last time around, and lots of friendships and associations then. A lot of those people still support me, and I’ve been able to rekindle those friendships.” In other words: Eh, whatever. Romney knew that he’d lucked out, and that Iowa would either give him a win—probably with less than 30 percent of the vote—or that a social conservative would win, and the media would remember that Iowa didn’t matter.

After Romney finished, I drove to Urbandale, mostly to catch up with the Santorum train. The candidate’s headquarters, located in one of America’s most anonymous office parks (the same one as Gingrich’s), was decorated with a Christmas tree. I looked past the ornaments intermingled with Santorum stickers, over to the table where volunteers could grab talking points for caucus night.

Santorum is a favorite of the Tea Party for his efforts fighting corruption and taxpayer abuse in Washington.

Sarah Palin said Rick Santorum’s “been consistent in saying we need to slash the federal income tax.”

When Rick lost re-election in 2006, it was the worst environment possible for Republicans.

I walked out with a volunteer, Nathan, who’d signed up when Santorum placed fourth in the Ames Straw Poll. He pointed out the inflatable bed that Santorum’s state campaign chairman Cody Brown used to sleep in. (It was propped up against a window; no snooping required.)

“If we pull off a miracle on Tuesday,” said Nathan, “it will be because of him.”

Of course Santorum winning Iowa wouldn’t be a miracle. It would be a triumph of hard work. But Santorum winning New Hampshire, or Nevada, or South Carolina, or the nomination: Those would be miracles.

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