Rick Santorum Gets Into the Race

Rick Santorum is the latest Republican hopeful to make his unofficial candidacy official: he announced in Somerset, Pennsylvania this morning that he's running for president. Santorum's is one of several candidacies that, from the outside, don't appear to make much sense. He lost his 2006 Senate reelection race by 17 points in the purple state of Pennsylvania. But Santorum is not yet running in the general election (and probably won't be). While his conservatism is too extreme for many voters, and would be a handicap in a national race as it was in Pennsylvania, many of the voters he'll be courting now are likely to consider it his most attractive quality. With Mike Huckabee out of the race, and Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann not yet in it, Santorum has an opening to become the top choice of social conservatives.


It says something about the paucity of good candidates that Santorum is even running. A year ago, his advisers said he was simply testing the waters in his trips to Iowa--it wasn't clear that he'd run or particularly wanted to, and the trips seemed to be conducted in a spirit of, "Heck, why not?" A year later, "Heck, why not?" is as good a reason to get into the race as any; there's no overpowering frontrunner and party activists are openly longing for better choices (that's why I think more candidates will eventually come out of the woodwork). I can't envision many scenarios in which Santorum actually wins the nomination. But I could certainly see him performing well in Iowa, where social conservatives have outsized strength in the state's caucuses. For my money, Santorum was the clear winner at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition's presidential forum in March. He spoke movingly, and more convincingly than anyone else, about the issues that motivate social conservatives.

But when I spoke to him afterward, Santorum also seemed beleaguered by the ceaseless demands of mounting a candidacy--primarily, raising money. Unlike Mitt Romney, Santorum is not independently wealthy. He also lacks a powerful bundling/fundraising operation. One way to think about Santorum is as a kind of Huckabee manque--he appeals to much the same audience, but without quite possessing Huckabee's charms. Also, if he surprises everyone and wins Iowa, I suspect he'll run into the same problem that Huckabee did: a lack of money.


Drop-down image credit: Reuters

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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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