Rick Santorum Is Back, Baby, With A New & Improved 2016 Campaign Game

Looks like the sweater vest king is back and more determined than ever. After making a valiant 2012 presidential run, in which he came in second in the GOP primaries, Rick Santorum is itching to hit the campaign trail again. In an interview with the Washington Post on Tuesday, Rick Santorum talks about running for president again in 2016. But things will be vastly different this time around, Santorum says, declaring to the paper that he's a new and improved Rick. Even though his name has barely been mentioned by pundits and outlets in discussion of 2016 (a Huffington Post GOP primary opinion poll puts him in 13th place out of 15), the former Pennsylvania Senator is already discussing his campaign with gusto.

In fact, Santorum sees the early lack of support as an advantage, telling the Post, "America loves an underdog. We're definitely the underdog in this race." Playing the underdog role is something he's familiar with — in 2011, after polling abysmally in his first presidential campaign, Santorum inexplicably surged ahead and overtook Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses. Perhaps buoyed by that success story, Santorum confidently says that he's learned an important lesson, explaining that staying out of the foreground "has given me a lot of latitude." This time around, "I get the game."

So how his his game different now? It seems that in many areas he really has learned from his experience the first time around, but in some he's still the same old Santorum.

Fundraising

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Santorum's first campaign failed to raise substantial funding and his total was consistently among the lowest of the GOP contenders. His fundraising efforts did not break $1 million by the third quarter; by comparison, Texas Governor Rick Perry's campaign had raised $17 million in just over a month. "We’re running a grassroots campaign," Santorum told the LA Times at the time. "We’re not spending a lot of money."

For 2016, however, Santorum has apparently made fundraising more of a priority. Foster Friess, the benefactor who donated $2.1 million to pro-Santorum PAC Red White and Blue Fund, has pledged his support again, according to Santorum. And this time he's making an effort to reach out to more heavyweight donors.

His Demographic

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

For 2012, Santorum set himself apart from the other candidates by visiting towns that were off the beaten path and meeting Americans usually ignored by other politicians. Since financing and status weren't his strong points, his campaign team suggested that he use what he did have, which was his personal time. Following this strategy, Santorum met with thousands of rural residents personally, who other candidates had ignored.

This strategy hasn't changed much for 2016, and in fact, Santorum is hoping to expand his reach with these working class Americans. He told the Post:

I don’t think I’ve met a 'suit' yet. It’s very much heart of America, average Americans who have found a place where they see someone who will stand up and fight for them. If the Republican Party has a future — and I sometimes question if it does — it’s in middle America. It’s not in corporate America.

Social Issues

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

During his campaign for the 2012 presidency, Santorum carved out a niche of die-hard supporters with pro-life Catholics, who like his social conservative views on abortion and LGBT rights. His views have been so hardcore that he was considered by some to be the most right-wing GOP candidate in 2012. For example, in January 2012, Santorum reiterated his belief that abortion should be universally illegal, even in cases of rape and incest. He told CNN's Piers Morgan:

We have horrible things happen. I can’t think of anything more horrible. But, nevertheless, we have to make the best out of a bad situation.

Santorum is similarly hard-line on gay marriage staunchly opposes gay rights across the board.

It seems that today, none of that has changed for Santorum, making social issues one area in which he is decidedly not new or improved. In November, Santorum gave a speech at Northwestern University in Chicago to 200 bipartisan students. When asked about abortion and gay rights, Santorum had this to say:

Just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean I hate you.... I think that reality sits on a lot of people. You’re a very visual generation, and you’ve all seen the baby in the womb … It’s hard to say that’s not a human.

Media Presence

Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Perhaps the most drastic change is in the amount of media attention Santorum is getting. Back in 2011 and 2012 during his first campaign, Santorum clearly struggled to get his name out. Back then, he complained to the Des Moines Register's editorial board:

I’m the only person in this race by measuring the Gallup poll from March to July, everybody else who’s even in the race or a prospective in the race their name identification increase except me. And so you just sort of wonder why is the national media not talking about me when they’re talking about people like Jon Huntsman who are way below me in the national polls yet he gets press every single day. Nobody seems to want to pay any attention to me.

These days, well, this piece should be your first indication. Plus, an exclusive interview with the Washington Post? Looks like Santorum's moving on up. But it's perhaps too soon to tell if his newfound spotlight will have any major impact on 2016.

Images: Getty Images (4)