Politics & Policy

Santorum Stays Small

Even as he goes national, the senator’s campaign retains its informal atmosphere.

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign is the Boston Red Sox of the GOP race. It’s big, it’s rich, and it employs some of the top players in the game. Rick Santorum’s effort is reminiscent of the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s small-market, and it features few bold-face names on the roster.

But behind the scenes, Santorum’s team is building, according to numerous campaign sources. In February alone, it made more than ten major hires, bolstered state-level staffs, and created an internal research department. “We are growing, but we are doing it in a very controlled fashion,” says John Brabender, Santorum’s strategist. “I look at Romney’s campaign, and it looks a lot like the federal government: It’s big, it’s very bloated, and it’s very expensive, which is why they have to raise so much money.” (To be fair, Romney’s ranks have slimmed since his last run.)

At the national level, the Santorum campaign has hired Alice Stewart, a former adviser to Michele Bachmann, as a spokesperson. “We’ve also elevated people,” Brabender says. Jill Latham, for example — the adviser who helped engineer Santorum’s surprise Iowa victory — was recently promoted to deputy campaign manager. On the digital front, Becky Mancuso has been tapped to run the campaign’s online marketing.

Aides who have been with the campaign for months, such as Iowa consultant Chuck Laudner, have been given new assignments. Laudner, who famously drove Santorum around Iowa in a pickup truck, now has a broader Midwestern portfolio; he recently directed the Minnesota campaign.

“We have put a lot of our people into the Super Tuesday states,” Brabender says. “At the same time, since we won those three states in early February, we’ve made 12 to 15 strategic hires.” Beyond the national advance team and the communications team, most of the new staffers are focused on specific regions or states.

As Santorum surged last month, campaign sources say, the senior team — Brabender, campaign manager Mike Biundo, and former chief of staff Mark Rodgers — huddled. They agreed that they needed more hands, but not too many.

Still, with over 100,000 small-dollar donations pouring in during Santorum’s February sweep, the senior group felt that they had the resources to rethink the campaign infrastructure. The goal: to be competitive at a national level without losing the campaign’s loose, accessible culture — a culture that has won over many conservatives.

The senior team agreed that there would be no new national headquarters with teams of people working out of one location, at least not for now. Skype and various instant-messaging tools would be utilized, as would conference calls and e-mail. “There was no push for a Romney-like headquarters — a Boston behemoth — in western Pennsylvania,” one source close to Santorum chuckles.

“We’re totally decentralized,” Brabender says. “We’re running a campaign the way people do business today. It’s not the classic, 1960s-style campaign. We have a campaign office in northern Virginia, but many of our top people are working in different states. Our finance director [Nadine Maenza] works out of Pennsylvania and runs the entire operation from there.”

The makeup and management of Santorum’s presidential campaign echoes past contests. “Rick, at his heart, is a grassroots tactician,” says Vince Galko, a Pennsylvania-based GOP consultant who advised Santorum’s 2000 and 2006 campaigns. “He has always been a coalitions guy, reaching out to folks,” in the business and evangelical communities. “He’s building as fast as he can but I’m sure it’s difficult for him,” Galko says. “He wants to have the organization, the accountability, and the resources. Now, he finally has the resources.”

So far, since the campaign has beefed up its personnel, the day-to-day running of the campaign still isn’t that different from last summer, when Santorum and several aides were surviving on a few dollars and debate appearances. Santorum, many aides say, is not someone who likes to be overly staffed, so the campaign’s focus is on developing networks in primary states and connecting on the Internet with supporters.

“We do a lot of things digitally, through web-conferencing,” Brabender says. “What happens, on a day-to-day basis, is that each sector, if you will, will run its own part of the campaign. Every morning, very early, the entire communications team is on a conference call, reviewing the agenda of the day, the requests. The digital team and the finance team hold similar calls. What we try to do is not become overly administrative in nature. We try to eliminate very big meetings where you fly everybody in. We think that’s terribly inefficient.”

Nevertheless, on certain fronts, the campaign has established new subdivisions.

Sources acknowledge that field-staff assignments frequently fluctuate, depending on the needs in various primary states. That stays fluid — Biundo, for instance, has been spending significant time in Ohio over the past month, preparing for Super Tuesday.

But in order to improve their messaging, the campaign needed to do more than dot the map with trusted staffers — it had to rethink its media strategy.

The hiring of Alice Stewart is cited by many aides as an important move — enabling Santorum’s press advisers, Hogan Gidley and Matt Beynon, to diversify and build the communications shop. Santorum had spent months under the radar, and the need for another staffer to help with the countless requests was evident.

Creating a research department has also been critical, according to several sources close to the campaign. Santorum’s researchers — his rapid-response team — now send out detailed rebuttals to Romney’s challenges, not merely statements. The team comprises a handful of web-savvy staffers.

The research team’s monitoring of top blogs, cable news, and rival campaigns has been a key part of the “next step” for the Santorum campaign. “There are a lot more people working on things than the media notice. That’s fine,” says a GOP operative who works with the campaign. From opposition research to outreach, they’re a quiet bunch.

There are others in Santorum’s broader circle, such as longtime adviser Virginia Davis, who keep in touch with the candidate, but the consensus is that Rodgers, Brabender, Biundo, and the little-known Randy Brandt, who was Santorum’s counsel in the Senate, are the top policy advisers.

But no one works as a speechwriter. Santorum, even as a top-tier contender, writes his own speeches and speaks extemporaneously. As the campaign expands, that hasn’t changed. And it’s a reminder to many in Santorum World that even as they get big, the campaign, for better or for worse, reflects its unscripted, energetic boss.

Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.

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