GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan — Rick Santorum will spend the coming days stitching the wounds he inflicted on himself as he reeled through Michigan, the candidate suggested Tuesday, and advisors and promised a more focused strategy going into Super Tuesday.
A central part of that plan, Santorum’s top media consultant said: convincing the remaining supporters of Newt Gingrich to switch teams.
“Even if Gingrich stays in the race, we need a lot of Gingrich supporters to say you know what, this is Santorum versus Romney, I’m gonna vote Santorum,” consultant John Brabender told reporters here after Santorum’s speech, in which the candidate did not concede defeat.
The key, he said, is to clarify that this is a one-on-one race. “If we go into Super Tuesday and people look at this and say it’s Santorum-Romney, in states like Oklahoma and others with a big conservative contingency, we’ll do well.” But the “pathway to victory” for Romney is if Gingrich manages to “drain votes” from Santorum.
Brabender expects to win at least five congressional districts in Michigan tonight, and as many as 9. He noted that the campaign is “much better organized than we we ever have been,” and that they have people on the ground in every Super Tuesday state (though “we’re willing to concede Massachusetts. There’s just way too many liberals up there for us. I don’t know, I shouldn’t say that.”).
As for Santorum’s concession speech tonight — with its overt appeals to female voters, a bloc Santorum has problems with, and blue-collar voters — Brabender resisted the suggestion that it was damage control, as did Santorum spokeswoman Alice Stewart. (Santorum celebrated his mother for being “a professional who actually made more money than her husband,” praised his wife Karen for being a “great example of how it’s important to balance that work and family,” and also lauded daughter Elizabeth for her independence in campaigning for him by herself.)
“He wanted to talk about his mom being in Michigan,” Stewart said; Santorum noted that his mother’s first job was in Saginaw. “It was something he wanted to talk about.”
Brabender defended his candidates’ recent spate of name-calling (Obama as snob, Romney as bully), a trait that opponents see as thin-skinned and the press has viewed as gaffes.
“Well, what did Romney call us?” he asked. “An economic lightweight. Is that not calling somebody a name?”
“What I’ve heard from everybody is that we probably won the last few days. Frankly I would argue that Romney made the biggest gaffes of anybody with the two Caddies, the households.”
The goal now is to raise more money and compete with the deep-pocketed Romney for televisoin time, which he tends to dominate.
“We’re sort of the MacGyver campaign,” Brabender said. “Everybody would agree, Rick Santorum does more with less.”
And Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania is coming up too.
“The biggest problem we have is that Romney has so many darn houses, he has a lot of home states he can claim,” Brabender said. “With all those Caddies he has in the driveway.”
The campaign heads to Tennessee tomorrow, before hitting other Super Tuesday states where Santorum is polling well, according to Stewart.