Matt Mackowiak

Rick Santorum was the longest of long shots when, five years after losing his bid for reelection to the Senate by 18 points, he spent much of 2011 campaigning for president in three early-primary states. But he campaigned longer and harder - albeit with less media attention, money, and staff - than any other Republican candidate. By the time Santorum barely won Iowa (as we belatedly learned), he had held nearly 400 town-hall meetings.

The rise of Santorum can be attributed to several key factors:

Media coverage: Santorum's universally unforeseen sweep of the contests in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado last week won him enormous attention on broadcast and cable news across the country.

A campaign that had struggled to raise $1 million over three months in 2011 raised more than $2 million in the 72 hours that followed that romp.

Electability: Santorum is the most electable conservative remaining in the race.

Despite Newt Gingrich's high name recognition and his history as a leader of the conservative movement, his baggage has proven insurmountable. Gingrich's only win, in South Carolina, came on the heels of two dynamic but unrepeatable debate performances, and he has been unable to unite social conservatives with fiscally conservative tea-party voters.

Santorum has solid, long-standing support among social conservatives, and recent polling shows he is winning more tea-party support. It helps that he opposed the federal bailouts that Gingrich and Mitt Romney supported.

Absence of gaffes: This campaign has seen several national front-runners: Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich. But all of them were unable to sustain a burst of support in the harsh glare of national media scrutiny.

Santorum's campaign had been left for dead many times, but it conserved its resources, developed a unique strategy, and let its workhorse drive it while committing very few gaffes. When Santorum has been given an opportunity - as he was when Romney's campaign foolishly underestimated the potential impact of a Santorum sweep last week - he has seized it.

Solid debates: It's hard to overstate the importance of the televised debates in this campaign. While nearly every Republican candidate has had a bad debate or a cringe-inducing moment, Santorum's performances have been consistently solid, leaving audiences with the impression that he is intelligent, confident, and experienced. His tactic of lumping Romney and Gingrich together on such issues as bailouts and an individual health-insurance mandate has been particularly effective in setting him apart.

Timing: Santorum is the last of the anti-Romney candidates. And when you are the last to bat, you can be the last to score.

In 2008, John McCain benefitted from peaking at the right time, when he won New Hampshire and Florida, after faltering badly early in the campaign. Santorum never faltered; rather, for a long time, he never really got going. But he is benefiting now from peaking at the right time.

While the national media, pundits, and conservative leaders were flirting with the flavors of the month, Santorum was doing the grueling, unglamorous work of building an organization. That ultimately earned him wins in four of the nine states that have held contests.

Santorum has significant momentum. To maintain it, he will need to prevent Romney from winning both Arizona and Michigan on Feb. 28. He also has to prove that he can win a large, expensive state, and that he can take harder punches from Romney, which Gingrich was unable to do.

More important, he needs to raise $5 million to $10 million over the next two or three weeks to fund his efforts on Super Tuesday, March 6, and in large states later that month and in April.

What Santorum needs most, though, is for Gingrich to exit, which would allow him to consolidate the "anti-Romney" vote.

Not long ago, no one had high hopes for the Santorum campaign - except perhaps Santorum, his family, and his longtime consigliere, John Brabender. Now Mitt Romney's campaign is hoping to come up with an effective response. But how do you beat a candidate who held nearly 400 town-hall meetings and scarcely made a mistake?


Matt Mackowiak

Matt Mackowiak is a Washington, DC and Austin, TX based political and communications consultant and the founder and President of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC, providing political consulting, media relations and crisis communications assistance to campaigns, companies, groups and individuals. Since he arrived in Washington, DC, he has served in senior roles for two U.S. Senators, a Governor, in the executive branch, in winning political campaigns, and in the private sector. Over his career Matt has developed deep relationships with national, state and local media and political figures.

Most recently Matt worked with PSG client Gov. Sean Parnell (R-AK) as a senior communications adviser, providing counsel on strategy, speechwriting and media relations during the 2011 legislative session in Juneau.

In 2010 Matt served as Campaign Manager for Bill Flores, the Republican nominee in Texas’ 17th Congressional District. After winning a 5-way primary, Flores defeated 10-term incumbent Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX) by 25% in November, the largest margin of victory for a GOP challenger in 2010.

In addition to offering counsel to individuals and corporations, Matt provides political analysis for the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, ABC News, CBS News, BBC News, and radio stations throughout the country. Matt’s on-therecord political analysis has appeared in Politico, the Washington Times, the Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg News, The Hill, Congressional Quarterly, the Washington Examiner, the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, and on ABCNews.com. He is a syndicated columnist and has had opinion columns published in the New York Post, New York Daily News, FoxNews.com, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Politico, Roll Call, Austin American-Statesman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Des Moines Register, National Review online, Congressional Quarterly and on the popular blog sites The Daily Beast and The Huffington Post. Matt has lectured and given speeches at the University of Illinois, the University of Texas, Texas Christian University, Georgetown University, Catholic University, the University of Denver, American University and the University of North Texas.

From 2005-2009 Matt served as Press Secretary to U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (RTX), the fourth ranking member of the Republican Leadership, and three-term former U.S. Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT). Earlier in his career he was a political appointee at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for Under Secretary Asa Hutchinson and Assistant Secretary Stewart Verdery, managed the second largest county in Iowa on the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, counseled corporate clients at international PR firm Burson-Marsteller, and performed White House Presidential and Vice Presidential advance nationwide.

Matt is a Director of the Center for Public Policy and Political Studies at Austin Community College, and is a sustaining member of MaverickPAC. He serves as a member of the Board of Advisors for the non-profit Luke’s Wings and enjoys helping Becky’s Fund and USA CARES.

A native of Austin, Texas, Matt graduated with a B.S. in Communications Studies (Political Communication track) from the University of Texas in 2003. Aside from his professional work, he owns and manages the popular blog site www.potomacflacks.com, which the Washingtonian has called “one of the best political blogs.” In his free time, Matt enjoys sports, live music, reading biographies, and is an avid supporter of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the University of Texas.