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Breakfast with Rick Santorum
The former senator hammers Mitt Romney on health care.


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Robert Costa

“The swing states — that’s my sweet spot,” Santorum says. “That’s where I can attract the voters that we need to win.” Romney, he predicts, may improve GOP numbers in the Northeast, but he’ll still likely lose those states to Obama. “He’ll lose by less,” Santorum surmises. Santorum sees his own strength in Virginia and Ohio, even though he lost those primaries. “I’m not going to be outspent [in a general election],” he says. He is confident that his pro-manufacturing, blue-collar economic plan, and his focus on freedom, could click.

“A short campaign is the best for us,” Santorum says, looking ahead to a potential compressed campaign following a contested convention. “If we only have a two-month campaign, [the Obama campaign’s] money advantage, and it’ll be an advantage, won’t make much difference because there is only so much money you can spend in two months to have really any impact. There are diminishing returns after awhile. But if we have a nominee next week, all of the money advantages they have, now, are going to be trained on destroying the nominee.”

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A couple of the reporters at the table, including yours truly, raise their eyebrows. Santorum’s scenario is possible, but its plausibility isn’t entirely apparent. A two-month campaign following the convention could certainly occur, but many assume it would hurt, not help, the GOP. Santorum senses the skepticism, but he doesn’t back off. “I think we can come close to winning everything in May,” he says, and, should he pick up primary wins in Texas, North Carolina, and Indiana, he has every reason to stay in until Tampa.

In the meantime, “I think we should win Pennsylvania,” Santorum says, reflecting on his home state, which will hold its primary in late April. “I’m not sure we can win Wisconsin,” which will hold its contest in early April, since he is being outspent. “We might be able to pull it off,” he says. But the bigger picture, to him, is the delegate math. While he is proud of his Bayou State victory, and of his other come-from-behind wins, he is most cheerful about his ability to pick up delegates, even in states where Romney’s political machine has outgunned him.

“We have just as good a chance of getting [to 1,144 delegates] as he does,” Santorum says. He is already working with top supporters such as Kim Lehman, a member of the Republican National Committee, to build coalitions among unbound delegates, such as the RNC’s 117 “super delegates.” Leaning back, he says, he would relish the opportunity to spar at the convention with Romney, working with conservatives at the eleventh hour to patch together a ticket.

“It is the best thing that could happen — to make this election a two-month election,” Santorum says, smiling. “The best way to win this election is to actually give people a clear choice on two different alternatives on the most important issues of the day. I talk about this in every speech — the two biggest bread-and-butter issues in America right now are number one, Obamacare,” and number two, “energy costs — gas prices, gas prices, gas prices.”

As his staffers pull him away to meet with donors, Santorum tells us that this is not some pipe dream — he is winning primaries and gaining momentum. He is campaigning, he says, to help the conservative cause, not hurt the GOP. “Look, if it becomes very clear that even under our math that Governor Romney is going to get there, that he is going to have the delegates, then sure,” he’d consider dropping out — but not yet. “[Romney’s campaign] has nothing really substantive, unfortunately, to offer Republican voters, so they offer them process,” he says. Unless that changes, he thinks he can win.

— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.



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