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After Big Super Tuesday, Santorum Gets Second Look from GOP Online | The Nation

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Ari Melber

Ari Melber

Law, politics, new media and beats, rhymes and life.

After Big Super Tuesday, Santorum Gets Second Look from GOP Online

Rick Santorum emerged from Super Tuesday with ammunition to continue a long fight for the nomination—winning several states decisively, finishing strong in Ohio and burnishing his reputation as a challenger who perseveres even when drastically outspent by Romney. That’s a quality many fallen rivals did not have. And while Romney still has many advantages, the calendar is not one of them: he has a lead of 150 delegates, but about 1,700 remain up in the air between now and the GOP’s August convention.

The big question is whether Santorum can build these regional victories into a national constituency that is excited and focused enough to overturn the party’s unloved-but-expected nominee. Some of the clues to that challenge are online, where data show many voters around the country really are giving Santorum another look.

Santorum’s first turn in the spotlight came with his surprising January victory in the Iowa Caucus. His website traffic surged past Romney that week, a feat for a little-known candidate. Some of the largest groups of visitors were concentrated in early primary states, like Florida, South Carolina and Virginia, according to Google Trends. Santorum’s online footprint faded quickly, but spiked again after he won Colorado and Minnessota on February 7, and remained higher than Romney for most of the month, according to Alexa.com.

While there is no way to directly link aggregate web traffic to voting patterns, search volume does show that interest in Santorum has kept up with the voting schedule. Right now, his top five search locations were all recent primary states—Idaho, Oklahoma, Michigan, Tennessee and Ohio. (Out of all Google searches nationwide, “Super Tuesday” came in sixth on Tuesday, still trailing Rush Limbaugh at number three.)

Unlike Romney, who is well known from a previous presidential bid and able to buy plenty of ads introducing himself to voters, Santorum needs grassroots and online support to reach voters. His YouTube channel has now garnered about 2.1 million video views; the most popular item was posted just two weeks ago, a lighthearted anti-Romney ad called “Rombo.” The channel still trails Romney’s, however, which has 5.3 million cumulative video views, and Gingrich, who garnered 9.3 million views and recently uploaded his twenty-nine-minute energy address on YouTube.

Beyond the primary, however, none of the Republicans candidates are doing as well online as their would-be opponent, Barack Obama. At the comparable time last cycle, in March 2008, his online support was higher by every measure (including record-breaking fundraising and several viral video hits that each drew millions of views). Today, to pick one remarkable contrast, total views on the Obama YouTube channel add up to 173 million.

“The GOP still has a long way to go,” says Alexander Bernard, a Stanford Law graduate who just launched Whistelstop.com, which measures candidates’ political impact online. According to his calculations on the week leading up to Super Tuesday, Obama captured 71 percent of the total “digital footprint in the presidential race,” Bernard told The Nation, while “the four Republican candidates combined” took the other 29 percent. For a long shot like Santorum, that slice of a slice may not be enough.


Two of Santorum’s most popular videos are below.

 

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