In South Carolina, Santorum counts on a second surge

CHARLESTON, SC - JANUARY 19: Republican presidential candidate, and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum is flanked by Cadets from the Citadel, while speaking at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, on January 19, 2012 in Charleston, South Carolina. Voters in South Carolina will head to the polls on Saturday January 21 to vote in the primary election for the Republican presidential candidate. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Rick Santorum
Rick Santorum is flanked by Cadets from the Citadel, while speaking at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, on January 19, 2012 in Charleston, South Carolina.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. - Did an Iowa "win" come too late for Rick Santorum?

On Thursday, Iowa Republican Party officials belatedly updated their account of the January 3 caucus results: Rick Santorum, not Mitt Romney, emerged with a slim lead, they determined, besting Romney by 34 votes. 

Santorum was triumphant declaring a delayed-reaction victory yesterday, calling his margin over the former Massachusetts governor a "solid win" and "much stronger" than the eight-vote lead previously attributed to a Romney.

Whether or not an immediate Santorum victory in Iowa could have given the candidate more clout down South (a point on which many are doubtful), it's almost certainly too late to make a difference now, just one day before state's January 21 primary. Even so, the candidate continues to barnstorm the state in the hopes of re-energizing a campaign that shows signs of weariness.

While Newt Gingrich is enjoying a renewed surge of popularity, a handful of recent surveys point to a fourth-place finish for Santorum.

"As we've said from day one, this is a marathon, not a sprint," the candidate said Thursday at a Value Voters rally in Mount Pleasant. "There have been two primaries held now; we've won one. And with a big win today in Iowa that's finally been certified, I think it's important to understand not only did we win the certified vote, but if you add all the other votes, we won by even more."

Santorum said he was confident ahead of the South Carolina contest, noting that "we've exceeded expectations at every one of these primaries going into it."

"Let's just wait," he said. "We're optimistic."

In recent days, however, signs suggest the candidate has struggled to connect with voters in a state many thought would have been a natural fit. Not so long ago he was commanding crowds in the hundreds; yesterday, he was greeted by an audience of mostly reporters. 

At the rally, Santorum was introduced by Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, who praised the candidate but said he could not explicitly endorse him. Last weekend, Perkins announced that a group of evangelical leaders, himself included, was throwing its collective weight behind Santorum. "What I did not think was possible appears to be possible," said Perkins then, adding that after several rounds of voting, "there emerged a strong consensus around Rick Santorum as the preferred candidate of this room."  (Perkins did concede then that "Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were kind of neck in neck," at one point.)

Sanotrum also received the personal endorsement of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson on Thursday. But earlier in the day, Santorum was dealt a new blow: Texas Governor Rick Perry, withdrawing from the race, threw his support to Gingrich.

"I've gotten to know Gov. Perry, really didn't know him before this race, and I've actually quite enjoyed getting a chance to meet him and know him," Santorum said Thursday. "As far as what he wants to do and who he's gonna endorse, that's his decision and I certainly respect that."

Still, the endorsement could give Gingrich the bump he needs to give Romney a run for his money and leave Santorum behind.

South Carolina GOP debate: Winners and Losers

"I think it's been really interesting to watch, coming out of Iowa, what's happened to Santorum here -- because on some level you'd think he'd be a fairly natural candidate, with the family values issues," said Mark Byrnes, a historian and politics expert at South Carolina's Wofford College.

Sweater vest jokes aside, Byrnes points to Santorum's earnest style as possible turn-off to voters.

"South Carolina likes these sort of shooting from the hip, straight-shooter kind of politicians, the Strom Thurmonds and the Jim DeMints," Byrnes said. "The people who don't seem to worry about the niceties. They tell it like it is; they're strong, they're forceful, they're passionate."

Santorum, he said, "tends to over-explain sometimes."

"I think really his earnestness actually kind of hurts him in a way. He does come across as a very earnest person -- well intentioned, sincere... all of those things you would think would be politically positive," Byrnes said. "But in the rough and tumble of this kind of campaign..."

Even some of Santorum's fans have questioned the candidate's ability to take on a candidate like President Obama.

"To tell you the truth I think he's a pretty honest guy -- but he's in the wrong business," said an observer at the rally, who preferred to be identified only as James, a retiree from Mount Pleasant. "I don't think he has a chance of winning, but I think he's got some core convictions, he believes what he says and that's great."

"I'd love to see this guy elected, but he doesn't have a chance," he continued. "He's not electable."

At left, Lucy Madison discusses whether the revised Iowa results will boost Santorum's campaign.

Santorum, however, may prove to be more of a fighter than some give him credit for. At Thursday's CNN-sponsored presidential debate -- the last before the Saturday primary -- he came out swinging. Mocking Gingrich for having "grandiose" ideas but little follow-through and targeting both him and Romney for past positions on health care and abortion issues, the staunch social conservative demonstrated a rare willingness to drop the politesse.

"This is South Carolina, isn't it?" Santorum quipped in remarks to reporters after the debate. "That's what you do in South Carolina, you get out here and you draw the contrasts, and they've been drawing the contrasts to me on television, so I thought I'd return the favor and draw the contrasts on television."

In recent appearances, the candidate has suggested he'll go on to Florida no matter what happens in the primary.

But some Republicans -- even some pro-Santorum Republicans -- argue that a particularly poor performance would go hand in hand with an obligation to reassess the situation.

Is Newt Gingrich's surge for real?
What do South Carolina voters want?

When asked if he thought Santorum would stay in the race even following a fourth-place finish, South Carolina state Senator Larry Brooms (who just days ago swapped out his Perry endorsement for a Santorum one) said another look might be in order.

"If he comes in fourth in this race, certainly that would be disappointing," Brooms said. Speaking hypothetically of such an occasion, however, he said he thought Santorum "would have to take a look at where your poll numbers in Florida, what budget do you have remaining."

"When there is no strategy to move forward, it's time to get out," Brooms added. "You could say that for the other candidates - what happens if you come fourth? Certainly that would be a blow; whether it's a complete knock-out depends on what you're having occur in Florida and where you're standing with poll and dollars."

Thursday night, Santorum didn't seem too concerned.

"Well the last 24 hours has been, you know, I think will go down in primary history as probably one of the most tumultuous 24 hours that we've seen," he said. "And it hopefully is an opportunity for us to get our legs here in South Carolina, begin to climb back up... We're leaning forward, and we're gonna do well."

Full CBS News coverage: Rick Santorum

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