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Can Santorum Even Compete in Florida?

The good news for Rick Santorum is that he spent less than a dollar for each vote he received in Iowa. The bad news is that the money he saved (and has raised since) still puts him at long odds to beat Mitt Romney in Florida.

The Palm Beach Post has a good write-up of Santorum’s chances in Florida, which will hold its primary January 31. While the timing of Santorum’s poll boost was perfect for Iowa, it will now work against him in two ways. First, he obviously hasn’t had much time build an organization yet, and early voting in Florida begins January 21. Second, “momentum” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, as the Post reports:

Four years ago, Mike Huckabee got national buzz and a lift from second­-tier status after winning the Iowa caucuses.

But by the time Florida’s primary arrived 26 days later, a second-place finish in South Carolina had sapped Huckabee’s momentum and he lacked the money to compete in Florida’s 10 media markets and 67 counties. Huckabee limped to a fourth-place finish in the Sunshine State as John McCain effectively clinched the nomination.

“Florida’s an expensive state,” Huckabee’s 2008 campaign manager, Chip Saltsman, recalled Wednesday. “I remember specifically it was about a $4 million statewide (TV advertising) buy. … Whatever it was, we didn’t have it.”

This is one reason Rick Perry may have decided to stay in the race. Many candidates lacking strong fundraising simply cannot carry the early southern states on momentum alone. Huckabee, though he may have not even realized it, had to choose between South Carolina and Florida. Santorum is a significantly less formidable “not Romney” than someone like Perry with regard to fundraising.

The Huckabee comparison is instructive for another reason: Santorum’s claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney will only get him so far in the state. In 2008, Romney was both well-funded and considered more conservative than McCain, yet McCain won Florida anyway. Put simply, as the Florida campaign consultants made clear, Santorum needs to compete in the state’s media markets if he wants to win the state:

Another longtime Florida Republican consultant, Rick Wilson, said Santorum has “a high hill to climb” to mount an effective TV campaign to reach Florida’s 4 million registered Republicans.

“Can (Santorum) be up on TV in three weeks banging away? That’s a good question,” said Wilson, who isn’t aligned with any 2012 presidential campaign. “Romney has a lot of structural advantages going forward.”

Thinking of Santorum as the final “not Romney” is a mistake. Today’s Suffolk University tracking poll has Santorum ten points behind Ron Paul and only a point ahead of Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich in New Hampshire. With Perry staying in the campaign, the second tier is still wide open.



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