Gingrich vs. Santorum

by Robert Costa

A rivalry gets testy:

Earlier this week, in a Fox News interview, Gingrich verbalized his inner circle’s agitation. “The longer conservatives stay split, the harder it’s going to be for us to [beat Romney],” he said. “We risk not being able to beat Obama unless we get a conservative. I have to win the nomination.”

Santorum confidants chuckle at Gingrich’s declaration. “Gingrich’s stock is falling, and we’re picking up a lot of his people,” says John Brabender, Santorum’s senior strategist. “People know that we need an alternative to Mitt Romney. But Gingrich had his shot in Florida, and he failed.”

Brabender predicts that during the month of February, with only one debate and a slew of caucuses, Santorum will assert himself as the viable Romney challenger. And if Gingrich continues to issue hubristic statements, conservatives will sour on the former speaker.

“Gingrich has been trying to push us out, and people find it offensive,” Brabender says. “We’re not going to tell him to get out of the race; that’s a personal decision.”

The timing of Gingrich’s comments — they came around the time Santorum was tending to Bella, his hospitalized daughter — inflamed the fractious relations between the two campaigns. “The mere fact that he was doing it smells of political opportunism and people found it problematic and troubling,” Brabender says.

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