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The Santorum nightmare

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Rick Santorumby Alan Fisher

Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum won’t lose any core supporters for letting loose during a fiery run-in with a New York Times reporter. Seen by many on the right as the flagship of the ‘lamestream media’, they will be delighted he attacked the Times, even if he did swear during the exchange and it was caught by TV cameras.

It is, however, a sign that the pressure is getting to the former Pennsylvania senator. He has won a few primaries and caucuses, but he is way behind in the delegate count, way behind in the number of votes cast and way behind in endorsements from senior figures in the Republican party.

He made a number of serious missteps during the campaign. Earlier this month, he spent a couple of days campaigning in Puerto Rico. He was photographed with his shirt off, enjoying the sun, and perhaps he needed the break because he certainly wasn’t getting the votes. His main rival Mitt Romney had sewn up the party machine there and took all the delegates.

Santorum virtually killed his chances by allegedly claiming if Puerto Rico wanted to be a US state, then the people would have to learn English. He says he was misquoted, but the damage was done.

Spending time in pursuit of the lost cause of Puerto Rico diverted time and money from the big battle in Illinois where Santorum could have pulled off an upset win and reset the entire nomination battle.

It was a significant strategic error, but it’s not his first. He failed to get on the ballot in all counties in Ohio. He lost there narrowly. He did the same in Michigan. He failed to even get on the ballot in Virginia or in next week’s Washington DC primary.

He has failed to stay on message. Before the important Michigan primary, he had a lot of energy and momentum, but instead of sticking to his economic message, he attacked President Obama as a ‘"nob" for wanting to provide the opportunity for every child to go to university. He took his attention off Romney, when his working-class background would have played well in the state

When I first met Santorum in Iowa way back in October, he was a massive outside bet in the nominating contest. He was pleasant and grateful of the publicity, but no-one seriously expected him to survive beyond the first two contests. He won, but people kept saying the jovial, easy-going candidate we saw in Des Moines wasn't the real Santorum, who could be testy and angry.

Perhaps his outburst to the New York Times was calculated, but it may also be a sign that he knows that after all the miles, all the hard campaigning, all the dialing for dollars to keep his campaign alive, it may soon be over.

Mitt Romney’s campaign, too, hasn’t been exactly sure-footed. The multi-millionaire governor challenged a Republican rival to bet $10,000, which is a year’s salary for some of the people he wants to vote for him. He said he didn’t care about the poor claiming they had a safety net and when asked if he was interested in NASCAR racing he said not really, but some of the team’s owners were his friends.

It’s hardly "man of the people" stuff.

Then last week, a close campaign aide (at least he still was at the time of writing) suggested Romney was like the child’s game, Etch-a-Sketch, wiping out the picture of the nomination-seeker to re-draw him as a presidential hopeful for a national campaign.

The Republican party faithful don't love Romney. They like him and they respect him but crowds don't go nuts for Romney on the campaign trail.

The fact is Santorum - with his late surge and core support - couldn't edge past him. He didn't make the crucial calls when he needed. And when the campaigning stops and there are no more battles to fight in this nominating process, that's what will haunt Santorum.


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