Johnston, Iowa — As he reviews early returns, here on the second-floor of the Stoney Creek Inn, Mike Biundo, Rick Santorum’s campaign manager, is pleased with what he is hearing. The data, and especially the phone-call anecdotes, coming out of western Iowa, long expected to be Santorum Country, are strong. If Santorum can perform ably in the Catholic towns in the Northeast, and generate good numbers in more populated central Iowa, it could be quite the night for the former Pennsylvania senator.
UPDATE: But Biundo isn’t just thumbing through print-outs from the heartland. A longtime Granite State political operative, he has his eye on New Hampshire, where he is confident Santorum can compete, especially if he is boosted by a top-tier finish in Iowa. “We’ve let the voters kick the tires, see us in person,” he says. “They do that here and they do that in New Hampshire…. We feel pretty good that we’re able to expand out from there.”
“He’s somebody that has a pro-growth jobs plan that wants to help bring manufacturing back,” Biundo says, and his populist persona and Roman Catholic faith won’t hurt.
Beyond the message, “It’s all about shoe leather,” Biundo says. “He’s gone out and done it the traditional way,” and due to New Hampshire’s size, feels that Santorum, in certain respects, can repeat his Iowa, “little-engine-that-could campaign.”
“We’re going to have enough resources to compete,” he says. Fundraising, he hints, has “tripled” the campaign’s usual money-raising rate, though he won’t provide metrics.
Indeed, Biundo tells me that Santorum is prepared to play nationally. Months ago, when they were plotting a path from obscurity, they agreed that should he surge, he’d need to have an operation brewing in New Hampshire in South Carolina, even on a volunteer level, in order to quickly shift, should they get their chance, and show doubters that they were more than an “Iowa candidate.” Regardless of tonight’s final tally, Biundo says the campaign is ready to do that, in a methodical manner.
“We both felt that we had to do well in Iowa, since everyone was going to say that was the place where Santorum needed to perform,” he says. But Biundo, who worked on Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign, and on Manchester mayor Frank Guinta’s successful 2010 congressional effort, said that the ex-senator, which his Northeast background, couldn’t stumble in more moderate New England, since that would dash his momentum and enable the press to paint him as a fringe social-conservative favorite, not a viable, experienced legislator.
“We talked about what happened to Mike Huckabee, having been an ‘only Iowa’ candidate,” Biundo says. “I’ve always felt strongly that if had been able to do just a little bit more last time, peel off a few votes, then he could have avoided the roadblock. New Hampshire, if he had only spent a little more time, would have been his speed bump on his way to South Carolina, where he had a more natural stronghold.”