Rick Santorum is getting lost in the growing GOP pack

Losing presidential candidates win consolation prizes in the media world

Within days after Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election, I began to receive emails from Rick Santorum’s media relations staff. At the time, I thought to myself, "This guy is still running for president." And, of course, I was right.

Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, finished No. 2 in the 2012 Republican primaries, so it made sense that he might want to have another go at it. The unceasing flow of emails on his behalf did not mention the next election, of course. They were merely updates on Santorum’s speaking schedule and statements about major issues arising in the news -- part of a coordinated effort to signal he remained a player in the political game.

Many of the news releases arrived under the banner of Patriot Voices, an organization formed by Santorum and his wife, Karen, in 2012 with a stated mission to "fight to protect faith, freedom, family and opportunity." The unstated, but rather obvious, underlying mission was to maintain a political organization Santorum could mobilize for another White House run. It also allowed him to avoid having to take a real job.

Santorum probably hoped his good showing in the last round of primaries and his unceasing effort to sustain grass-roots support would give him the inside track to the 2016 GOP nomination, but it has not turned out that way. In polls, he is now languishing near the bottom in the most crowded field of candidates in his party’s history. Instead of fighting for first place with Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker, Santorum is stuck between Carly Fiorina and George Pataki.

Still, there is no reason to give up. The Iowa caucuses are still eight months away and, as yet, no candidate holds a commanding position in an ever-expanding group of candidates that is splitting the polling numbers into smaller and smaller fractions. Anything could happen.

The uncertain nature of the Republican race at this point has made it easy for just about anyone to announce his or her candidacy and expect to be taken at least halfway seriously. Politically speaking, there are no heavyweights in the GOP ring in this election cycle, no prohibitive favorites. If you were a Republican with even a modest resume as a senator or governor or Fox News analyst (or, if you were Donald Trump, with an ego the size of Manhattan), it would be easy to look around at the competition and think, "Really? I’m at least as worthy as the rest of these guys."

And even though most of the announced and soon-to-be-announced candidates must know their chances are slim, they have also learned there are consolation prizes for also-rans. Mike Huckabee turned his failed candidacy in 2008 into a lucrative TV career that is paying for a gaudy mansion in Florida. A turn as a vice presidential nominee elevated Sarah Palin from a boring job as governor of Alaska to a glitzy celebrity career at the crossroads of politics and entertainment. For others, being a presidential candidate at least earned them frequent appearances on the Sunday morning political news shows.

Santorum may face more meager rewards if and when he loses again. Still, considering that Pennsylvania voters booted him out of the Senate in 2006, by November 2016, he will have spent much of a decade as a presidential candidate or candidate-in-waiting with all the perks and attention that go with that role. That's not nearly as good as getting the keys to the White House, but, for a politician, it is sure better than obscurity.

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