How Does Rick Santorum Do It?

Yesterday, I passed on the observation from my friend and colleague Ed Snow that Senator Santorum had visited three Baptist churches in Louisiana on Sunday, sharing his personal faith with the congregation at the First Baptist Church of Bossier, Louisiana, and at two other such venues.

Ed also noted that, thus far, Santorum had campaigned only downstate in Illinois, in rural and predominantly Evangelical areas.

Ed now corrects himself:  There was at least one northern Illinois event, as well — at an Evangelical megachurch and school.

The strategy still seems very clear, and, to me at least, it stinks:  I ask again, can you imagine the outcry if a Mormon church were so overtly involved in politics?  As a matter of fact, we’re regularly denounced as wannabe theocrats even though we scrupulously avoid such things.

Many observers have been pointing to Senator Santorum’s shoestring budget and lack of campaign organization — he apparently doesn’t even have a national headquarters — and his simultaneous ability to give Governor Romney a serious (if mathematically doomed) fight for the nomination.  This, they say, points to Governor Romney’s unpopularity (though he’s gotten far more delegates, and substantially more popular votes, than Mr. Santorum has) and his inability to connect with Real Voters.

I draw a somewhat different lesson from it.

In the 2008 election, Mike Huckabee was able to beat Governor Romney in the Iowa caucuses — a setback from which the Romney campaign, in my opinion, never really recovered — despite being vastly outspent and despite having substantially no organization.

How did he do it?

Church buses transported hundreds and thousands of Evangelicals to caucus for Rev. Gov. Huckabee against the non-Christian cultist, Mitt Romney.  Mr. Huckabee didn’t need “organization.”  Or, more precisely, he already had it, ready-made.

So, too, with Senator Santorum.  He has less need of advance staff to rent facilities and prepare them because he speaks at Evangelical churches and schools where no rent is charged and where the on-site staff prep the facility, guarantee an audience, and warm up the crowd.

Mr. Santorum typically does two or three percentage points better in actual votes than he does in polls, and he has been especially successful in caucuses.  I think this is directly and largely attributable to his use of the pre-existing (and tax-exempt) funding, facilities, and organization of the Evangelical community.

Incidentally, for an examination of some of the official materials produced by the Southern Baptist Convention regarding Mormonism, see this.  And consider this, this, and this.  (More attractive PDF versions are available in each case by clicking on a link toward the upper left of the first page.)

Is it any wonder, when the Evangelical community has been subjected to such materials as these for decades, that they fail to connect very easily with a Mormon presidential candidate?

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