After wins, Santorum targets Romney's native state

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Thursday was just the second time Rick Santorum's campaign has ever raised more than a million dollars in a single day. The first was Wednesday, right after Santorum swept GOP contests in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri. That's what winning will do.

Santorum is now enjoying the bounce he never got after his belated victory in Iowa. The question is, what is he going to do with it?

The next primaries are more than two weeks away, on Feb. 28 in Arizona and Michigan. They're both big, they're both important, and they're both states in which Mitt Romney will have some advantage. Arizona has a significant Mormon population -- less than Nevada, where Romney won with 90-plus percent of the Mormon vote, but still significant. Michigan is where Romney was born and raised and where his father served as governor.

Add to that Romney's advantages in money and organization, and Santorum has an uphill climb. And then, after Arizona and Michigan, come the March 6 Super Tuesday contests. So even with those million-dollar days, Santorum will have to pick and choose which states to target.

In the short run, it appears he's looking closely at Michigan, for several reasons. First, while Romney won the state solidly in 2008, it wasn't a blowout: 39 percent for Romney to John McCain's 30 percent and Mike Huckabee's 16 percent. (Ron Paul, Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani won a combined 13 percent.) No one can say Romney has a lock on Michigan.

Second, Santorum starts out in better shape in Michigan than in Arizona. A Rasmussen poll taken the first week of February showed Romney with a huge lead in Arizona, 48 percent to Gingrich's 24 percent and Santorum's 13 percent. At the same time, Rasmussen found Romney up in Michigan 38 percent to Gingrich's 23 percent and Santorum's 17 percent. Santorum is undoubtedly in better shape after his wins Tuesday. Still, he would rather start out in a state 21 points behind the leader than 35 points behind.

Third, Romney's Michigan favorite-son advantage might not be decisive. "I don't believe the home field advantage in Michigan is as strong as people think," says pollster Scott Rasmussen. "In New Hampshire, Mitt Romney benefited from having been the governor of Massachusetts and having his face beamed into the state on a very regular basis. He had a home there. He was there all the time. Romney has roots in Michigan, but he does not have the same kind of presence he did in New Hampshire."

Fourth, Michigan seems custom-made for Santorum's message of reviving American manufacturing and paying more attention to the problems of American workers who don't have college degrees. It's something Santorum has been talking about since his earliest days of campaigning in Iowa, and it seems likely to resonate in Michigan.

Fifth, while Arizona is a winner-take-all state when it comes to awarding delegates, Michigan is not. In Michigan, whoever wins a particular congressional district will win that district's delegates. That would allow Santorum to target places where he is strong and have the chance to walk away with delegates even if he doesn't win the whole state. If he doesn't win in Arizona, he gets nothing.

Back in 2008, Romney was the conservative alternative to McCain. This time, Santorum will present himself as the conservative alternative to Romney. "There are still a lot of conservatives in Michigan," says top Santorum strategist John Brabender. "They're conservatives first, and they're not going to vote for Romney just because he has a connection to the state, if they don't believe in his principles." Brabender, who says he does not want to tip the campaign's hand on future strategy, just happened to be in Michigan on Thursday.

Whatever route Santorum picks, the next primaries will test an explanation of his success that first emerged in Iowa. Back then, some Republicans had substantive objections to Romney, or Gingrich, or Rick Perry, or Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann. Those objections were based on policy differences, or "baggage," or just the feeling that the candidate wasn't ready to be president. But when it came to Santorum, most GOP voters worried chiefly that he couldn't win. Once they overcame that hesitation, he won.

Santorum hopes that will happen again. "There's an anybody-but-Mitt crowd," says Chuck Laudner, the conservative Iowa Republican operative who is working on Santorum's behalf. "There's an anybody-but-Newt crowd. There's an anybody-but-Obama crowd. But there's no such thing as an anybody-but-Rick crowd."

Of course, with a lot of campaigning to come, one might develop. That's Romney's job for the next two weeks.

Byron York, The Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at byork@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blogposts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.

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