Rick Santorum Visits All 99 Counties In Iowa, But Will It Pay Off?

Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is celebrating a campaign milestone on Tuesday with his completion of the “full Grassley” – or tour of all 99 counties in Iowa, the first-in-the-nation nominating state. It’s the second election in a row that Santorum has pulled off such a feat. Though it’s unlikely to bear as much fruit for the man who finished second to Mitt Romney in the Republican primary race four years ago.

For months, Santorum has struggled to gain traction in the polls despite maintaining a near-constant presence in Iowa – a state he carried in the 2012 primary contest. A new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll, for example, found Santorum pulling just 1% support among likely GOP caucusgoers in the Hawkeye State, far below the 23% support GOP frontrunner Donald Trump raked in. A recent Monmouth University poll, meanwhile, showed Santorum with 2% of the vote in Iowa – again way behind Trump and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, both of whom garnered 23% support among likely GOP caucusgoers.

At least publicly, Santorum tends to shrug off such results. “Four years ago, I was sitting pretty much where I am today – at the robust 1% level,” he said last week during an appearance on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.” A few weeks earlier, Santorum’s spokesperson similarly dismissed the polls, telling msnbc the campaign was actually “in a growing mode.”

But while Santorum was able to turn that 1% support into 11 primary victories in 2012, GOP strategists say it’s a long shot for history to repeat itself.

“He is where he was four years ago; the difference is the competition four years ago was far weaker than it is now,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

“Before, [Santorum] was competing against the Yale football team,” O’Connell said. “Now he’s competing against the New York Giants.”

Read more from Emma Margolin at MSNBC

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