Rick Santorum’s South Carolina team revels in momentum

GREENVILLE, S.C. — The trouble began with yard signs.

Rick Santorum’s campaign had ordered 4,000 for South Carolina back in December, which to the realists on his staff had seemed like way too many, because the Republican presidential candidate was drawing 1 percent support in local polls and a crowd of 11 people to the Waffle House by offering to buy their breakfasts. But then Santorum finished deadlocked for first place with Mitt Romney in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, and a surge of donations shut down his Web site. The 4,000 signs were snatched up within hours.

Now it was six sleepless days later, and Kerry Wood, Santorum’s top adviser in South Carolina, jammed his cowboy boot hard on the accelerator of a rental car, pushing it to 85 miles per hour through tobacco country, racing to keep pace with the momentum he’d worked so hard to create. Even after an uninspiring fourth-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, Santorum was continuing to enjoy newfound popularity in conservative South Carolina, where crowds of 300 gathered at his rallies to chant “We Pick Rick!” Those supporters also wanted bumper stickers, signs and instructions from the campaign.

Rick-Santorum“I wish I could find some way to move twice as fast and do twice as much,” Wood said, “or maybe just clone myself.”

The state’s Jan. 21 Republican primary was less than two weeks away. It would be the defining moment of Santorum’s political career, a chance to galvanize tea party support and assert himself as Romney’s main challenger, and Wood wondered whether his small team of volunteers and county chairmen had the infrastructure necessary to meet the moment. They had spent the past year trying to prove that theirs was a major campaign. Now they had little time to become one.

“A campaign with momentum takes on a life of its own,” Wood said. “There’s a lot that wakes me up now at 3 in the morning.”

He needed more yard signs.

He needed offices where he could store those signs.

He needed keys, computers and phones for those offices.

He needed a staff to answers those phones.

He needed buildings that could accommodate gatherings of 300 or more for two dozen Santorum events scheduled before primary day, and a six-person advance team to plan out those events, and bumper stickers to pass out to the supporters, and surrogate speakers to introduce the candidate, and traveling sound technicians, and media handlers, and a plane, and seven sport-utility vehicles for the candidate’s family, and a security crew that would be willing to dress inconspicuously to try to blend into crowds, because Santorum believed that keeping the campaign “lean” was central to his appeal. In fact, the candidate still wanted to travel to most events by himself, which would mean procuring the familiar pickup truck with Iowa plates.

Wood said he had barely slept or eaten in the past week as he tried to keep pace with 250 calls and e-mails that lit up his cellphone from 6 a.m. until midnight. He had watched so many other campaigns collapse under the weight of their own success: Bachmann. Perry. Cain. Gingrich. Even though Santorum had come in fourth in New Hampshire, his focus had always been on South Carolina, where the team planned to spend $1.5 million on advertising.

Source: Washington Post

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