The Persistence of Rick Santorum

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 18 2011 9:54 AM

The Persistence of Rick Santorum

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Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Stacy McCain argues that Rick Santorum, who placed a solid fourth in the Ames Straw poll (his campaign started the day with 1500 tickets, and he got 1657 votes), will stay in the race a while. Evidence: That straw poll showing, and his grappling match with Ron Paul.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

[I]f Santorum’s hard-core supporters are not nearly as numerous or as vocal as Paul’s famously fanatical fans, they are still in a position to keep Santorum’s low-budget campaign going with contributions of $20, $50, $100. Santorum has got a solid base of support among pro-life Catholics, who are likely to continue making small donations regularly well into next year, because they feel it is very important to have “their guy” on the debate stage — and on the ballot — so that he can keep voicing their views. Those supporters were cheering when Santorum didn’t flinch on a tough abortion question.
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Santorum is a smart grassroots politician, and he got exactly what he wanted out of Ames. He moved his family to the state before the vote; the less-showy part of that story is that when I talked to one of Santorum's sons on Saturday, he was under the impression that he'd be headed home. Santorum's cash-poor path to the nomination didn't exist last week, and it doesn't exist this week, but what does exist is a kind of political redemption. By starting out this campaign as a joke candidate, he can "win" if he finishes as less than a joke. That could be as little as a fourth place finish in the Iowa caucuses, followed by a passionate withdrawal speech. It could be a third place Iowa finish -- imagine Perry or Bachmann implodes, or Romney utterly flops there -- that gives him one of the "tickets" out of the state. There are, after all, 5.5 kinds of candidates.

1) Candidates who get the nomination. (See: McCain, John.)

2) Candidates who don't get the nomination, but do themselves some political/financial good by raising their profiles. (See: Huckabee, Mike.)
2a) Candidates who do so well that they're on the veep shortlist. (See: Biden, Joe.)

3) Candidates who further their causes with campaigns, even if they don't come close to winning. (See: Paul, Ron.)

4) Candidates who embarrass themselves and hurt their future political ambitions. (See: Dodd, Christopher. Possibly Huntsman, Jon.)

5) Candidates whom no one pays attention to, apart from the occasional "hey, what about this guy?" profile. (See: Hunter, Duncan.)

Santorum is in the catbird seat -- the media doesn't care about him, but social conservatives still do, so he's on track to hit that second candidate description.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.