BEDFORD, NH — Rick Santorum’s supporters here in New Hampshire had cause for celebration last night, as the former Senator used an Iowa surge to cement his place as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.
But the mood at the office never got too boisterous; for one thing, there weren’t too many people there and not very much space. The Santorum operation in New Hampshire is lean, no-frills, and very small.
Santorum has bet that he can prove his electability and broad appeal in New Hampshire, choosing not to cede it to Romney and be tagged a niche candidate, a risk others might take. He boasted Tuesday night in Iowa that he’d visited New Hampshire more than any other candidate save John Huntsman. The Santorum campaign’s ground game in New Hampshire has been in business for over a year and staffers told BuzzFeed the candidate has done 150 events in the state since December 2010. Iowa will likely produce a fire hose of cash and a bump in the polls, which currently place him fifth in a state Romney is expected to win handily.
But Santorum may not have the organization in place to capture the new money and support. He benefits from a committed NH staff and a network of devoted volunteers. The problem is that everything is on a tiny scale; the small office in the town of Bedford is home to only seven full-time staffers.
That spareness “is by design,” said state co-chair Bill Cahill. “That’s what the candidate wants.” As it was becoming clear that Santorum was slated for a strong finish in Iowa, Cahill remarked to BuzzFeed that “we’ve had a three-state strategy since day one — Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina — and we’re right on track.”
So far, they are. The question is whether or not Santorum’s little New Hampshire camp can handle the expectations brought on by victory in Iowa. They’re not short on commitment. Bill Boyd, an advisor, moved from Massachusetts to New Hampshire to work on the campaign here, having been a Santorum fan since the nineties. Quoting This Is Spinal Tap, he said “my enthusiasm’s up to 11. We’re all at 11 right now.” A number of volunteers said they’ve been following Santorum since the 90s.
The campaign knows its limits, and is working to dampen expectations. In the New Hampshire primary, “the battle for second place is still alive,” Boyd said. New Hampshire State Senator Fenton Groen, who’s been volunteering for Santorum here, said that a win was “almost too much to hope for.”
Santorum’s main campaign manager Mike Biundo lives in Manchester and has close ties to the New Hampshire staff. The Bedford office says that they’ve pulled in 20 volunteers in the last week alone, though the number is only about 150 statewide. And Santorum signs litter downtown Manchester, outnumbering even Romney and Paul signs in places.
Santorum, who told supporters in Iowa after his almost-win that “We’re off to New Hampshire because the message I shared with you tonight is not an Iowa or a South Carolina message,” will be arriving in the state tomorrow afternoon. He’ll campaign in the state almost consistently until the primary on the 10th, with a short detour to South Carolina on Sunday.