Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum
told an Iowa newspaper on Tuesday that the slow-forming 2012 GOP presidential primary field is helping him. As the Des Moines Register reported
" 'The fact that we have not seen a rush to the starting gate in this election cycle has given me an opportunity to really get a little better sense of how the water is,' he said. He said it's giving him time to get some campaign infrastructure into early states, raise money and see how voters respond."
Surely, this development (or lack thereof) is a mixed bag.
It is both good and bad for dark horse candidates hoping to make a name for themselves on the hustings, but my guess is it does more harm than good overall. What's more, the harm is being inflicted by some who have no intention of running but are publicly flirting with the idea to generate publicity.
For example, is Sarah Palin really considering a run? How about Mike Huckabee, another early "front-runner"? They are top-tier candidates, but neither may run. Regardless, it's in their best interest to postpone a decision. As Newt Gingrich has taught us, toying with the notion of running helps sell books and generate publicity (ironically, Gingrich appears to be sincere about running this time around).
Here's the problem: Logistically, at this point in a race, campaigns are charged with raising money, and shoring up local leaders in states like Iowa and New Hampshire. Both of these tasks are difficult -- if not impossible -- to do in a partially formed field.
How does Santorum, for example, nail down a local evangelical leader in Sioux City if that leader isn't sure whether Huckabee is going to get in?
And how many donors are waiting to see whether Palin gets in before deciding on a "plan B" candidate to support? At some point, this becomes a real issue that not only impacts the primary process but could impact the general election (though it's way too early to hit the panic button on that).
Then, there is how this affects the rest of us. Consider the Iowa Straw Poll taking place this August in Ames. Huckabee, who won the 2008 Iowa Caucuses, has said he won't make a decision before this summer. What if he sits out the straw poll? Whoever wins that event -- which also serves as a lucrative fundraiser for the Iowa GOP and is typically seen as the first test of a campaign's organizational strength -- earns a hollow victory, at best.
The Politico/NBC debate scheduled for this spring at the Reagan Ranch could also be impacted. How significant would a debate be if Huckabee and Palin do not attend, yet are still, at that point, considering jumping into the race? On one hand, this could provide an opportunity for others -- such as Herman Cain, Mike Pence or Gingrich (all good communicators) -- to make a splash in much the same way Huckabee did in 2008.
Cui bono? I can help thinking it's Mitt Romney who benefits most from the chaos. His supporters are his supporters. He's not a contingency plan for anyone. Huckabee, Palin, and Romney are leading the polls, but only Romney is clearly a candidate. And the more this establishment front-runner (he is the next in line) can keep grass-roots conservatives from coalescing behind any one of his potential opponents, the better it is for him. Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, may also benefit.
The bottom line is there are too many factors to predict how this thing might shake out. But it is very possible that some of the candidates will be impacted by people who have no real intention of running.