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Santorum and the RNC
His campaign is targeting the “super delegates.”

Kim Lehman (Dave Davidson/www.TEApublican.com)

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Robert Costa

A year ago, Kim Lehman, a Republican National Committee member from Iowa, paced across the ballroom at the Gaylord Hotel in National Harbor, Md., hunting for votes. The race for the party chairmanship had reached an unprecedented seventh ballot and her candidate, Wisconsin Republican Reince Priebus, was nearing the prize. But he wasn’t there yet.

Lehman, an influential pro-life activist, huddled with her fellow social conservatives, urging them to back Priebus, who, she promised, would be their champion. A few minutes later, the 168 party leaders marked their ballots. The votes were quickly tallied, and a winner was finally declared: Priebus, with 97 votes, had secured the majority, and the chair.

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For Lehman, recalling that tense, thrilling moment isn’t merely nostalgic — it’s instructive. This August, when Republicans convene in Tampa, she may find herself once again assisting a conservative insurgent with a floor fight. As a longtime Rick Santorum supporter who is trusted by the former senator’s inner circle, she would be a key figure at a contested convention.

Altogether, the RNC will send over 100 “super delegates,” including Lehman, to the convention. These officials are a sliver of the necessary 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination. But as party grandees in their respective states, they will likely play an outsize role should no one secure the nomination on the first ballot.

As Lehman explains, it’s the RNC veterans, not necessarily the elected delegates, who will manage the floor should such a scenario unfold. Since the super delegates are familiar with the GOP’s complicated rulebook, they’ll be the ones wooing the party’s unbound delegates and crafting the coalitions.

“I’ve been through this before,” Lehman says. “To win on the floor when there could easily be multiple ballots, you need to know how to lobby people, how to work with different groups.” Her role, she adds, is different than that of John Brabender, Santorum’s top adviser, or Mike Biundo, Santorum’s campaign manager. “I have my niche,” she says. “I’m doing everything I can within that niche, within the RNC, to build support.”

Indeed, as Santorum stumps in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, ahead of those states’ April primaries, Lehman and her allies are focused on another state, Arizona, where RNC members will gather next month. The Scottsdale confab will be members’ first face-to-face meeting since the RNC’s winter conference. Since then, Santorum’s support has grown significantly, and Lehman hopes to see more than a few RNC members — after connecting with like-minded peers — go public with their support.

“We’ll talk on a one-to-one level,” Lehman says. “This is a group that loves politics, that loves debates. But they’re pretty good strategists, too. There are a lot of people who like [Santorum], but until they’re positive that he’s going to win, they’re not going to reveal that. Over the past few months, I think the electability question has been answered; the final part of this process will be encouraging them to stand with us. It can be tricky.”

Romney has also struggled to build wide support within the RNC community. After the early March primaries, the Associated Press surveyed 107 of the RNC’s 117 super delegates. As expected, Romney won that poll — 24 RNC members endorsed him, putting him well ahead of Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul, who all pulled single-digit support. But the biggest winner, Santorum aides remind me, remains “undecided.”



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