Santorum downplays expectations ahead of Southern primaries

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum makes a campaign stop at McElroy's On the Bayou, Monday, March 12, 2012, in Ocean Springs, Miss. AP Photo/Eric Gay

Rick Santorum
Rick Santorum makes a campaign stop at McElroy's On the Bayou, Monday, March 12, 2012, in Ocean Springs, Miss.
AP Photo/Eric Gay
BILOXI, Miss. - Even as he barnstorms Mississippi and Alabama with days packed full of meet-and-greets and rallies ahead of the two states' primaries on Tuesday, Rick Santorum seems to be trying to lower expectations in the state by saying that his rivals have spent more time and money here.

"It's very tough," Santorum told reporters on Monday after a speech to the Gulf Coast Energy Summit. "It's basically a one-week campaign. The other campaigns have been here running ads longer than we have and have been spending time here before we did."

Recent polls show Santorum in third in both states, just behind Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. Santorum said his campaign was "playing catch-up" with his rivals.

"That's what happens when you compete in every state and you don't have the resources of everybody else," he said. "You gotta do that. I think we've done pretty darned well considering that."

While Santorum did struggle to keep up with better-financed challengers for some time, his fundraising prowess has risen with his polling numbers. Last month, he raised $9 million to Romney's $11.5 million, for instance. While he still has a significant overall financial disadvantage to Romney, any sense of playing catch-up with the other campaigns nowadays is likely due to a significantly smaller staff and nearly nonexistent organization on the state level, a fact on which the Santorum campaign prides itself.

Santorum's eight events in Mississippi and Alabama on Sunday and Monday were arranged with only a day or two of notice. He is spending election night not in one of the two southern states holding their primaries, but rather Louisiana, where the primary is scheduled for March 24.

But he only ran ads in Alabama, unlike Romney's and Gingrich's campaigns which bought airtime in both states. He was bolstered in both states by a Super PAC supporting his efforts, the Red, White, and Blue fund, which spent about half a million dollars in the two states.

He said he's still hoping that a strong showing in the state can help continue his campaign's momentum after a win in Kansas over the weekend - and suggested it might even help force Gingrich out of the race.

"People of Mississippi and Alabama want a conservative, for sure. They want to elect a conservative nominee. I think we're going to get one either way. But if they want a conservative nominee for sure, they can do that by lining up behind us and making this race clearly a two-person race outside of the South, which it already is, but it can make it even more demonstrative," he said.

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In a subsequent appearance in Birmingham, Ala., on Monday, Santorum exhorted voters to examine his conservative credentials, citing the 1980 Republican race as a precedent.

"Don't vote with what the pundits say," he said. "Trust your own heart and your own head. If you'd had voted with what the pundits say, we would have had George H.W. Bush in 1980, not Ronald Reagan, and where would we be as a country? Someone would have forgotten to read their lips 10 years sooner" -- a reference to Bush breaking his famed "no new taxes" pledge.

Lindsey Boerma contributed to this report.

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    Rebecca Kaplan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.

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