Meet Team Santorum.

The man tasked with leading Rick Santorum’s stand against the Mitt Romney juggernaut fell into the job after happening across Santorum’s presidential aspirations in the newspaper. Mike Biundo, a 43-year-old New Hampshire political consultant, was looking for something to do after managing a successful congressional bid when he read about Santorum’s possible run in The Union Leader. In December 2010, he reached out to inquire about taking a role with the campaign.

Biundo, a Long Island native with the accent to prove it, had helped lead Pat Buchanan to victory in the 1996 New Hampshire primary, but a couple years later he was back to consulting for local candidates. (Former state representative Fran Wendelboe recalls the odd way he came to work for her in 1998: “It was one of the stranger things,” she told me. “All of a sudden [Biundo and another man] showed up, and said, ‘We’ve been hired by someone to help you. We can’t tell you who.’” Biundo says he can’t recall who hired him: “I don’t remember, to be honest with you. There were always conservative groups around helping.”)

Biundo told me he was “enamored” of Santorum for years. “He’s a plain talker, he told it like it was, and, if you didn’t like what he had to say, he’d respectfully disagree,” Biundo says. Santorum offered him the job of running his New Hampshire PAC. Biundo accepted. By April, he was the national political director. By October, he was the campaign manager.


TODAY, BIUNDO sits atop a motley crew of Santorum staffers who are trying to translate their Iowa showing into national momentum. Not surprisingly, the man who in his 16 years in Congress became both a Washington operator and an advocate for heartland morality has drawn to his campaign an eclectic mix of K Street mainstays and people who appear to be genuinely passionate devotees.

Among the Beltway types are the campaign’s policy adviser, Jennifer Vesey Rossman, a former pharmaceutical lobbyist; the speechwriter, Seth Leibsohn, who is executive producer of Bill Bennett’s radio show; and media consultant John Brabender, whose firm had Santorum’s wife, Karen, on its payroll for four years in the late ’90s. (For much of last year, Santorum also employed as his chief fund-raiser Amanda Kornegay, whose past employment was notably at odds with his family values stance: She ran the PAC of the National Association of Broadcasters, which lobbies against indecency regulations.)

Then there are the true believers, some but not all of them veterans of Mike Huckabee’s 2008 campaign. I met several in Iowa. At the caucus I was observing, in an evangelical church near Des Moines, the young man delegated to speak on behalf of Santorum introduced himself as a “God-fearing small-business owner who loves his country” named Jesse Biter. He sported a deep tan that suggested he was probably not local. Near the end of his remarks, Biter let on that he was the chairman of Santorum’s Florida campaign. A college dropout who founded a 135-employee company that sells software to auto dealers, he later told me he was most drawn to Santorum because of the candidate’s stance on abortion. “I like that he’s pro-life but that he is realistic about getting it done. He’s willing to compromise for instances of rape or incest or where the mother’s life would be in danger,” Biter said. “Where he’s not willing to compromise is for folks who use abortion for birth control. That’s what drives me most nuts. ... I know people who get pregnant and go out and get abortions the next day. That’s sick.”

Later that night, at Santorum’s party at a hunting-lodge-themed motel, I met Alexia Newman, the director of a crisis pregnancy center and Santorum’s chief liaison to South Carolina social conservatives. She was sitting on a couch in the lobby with a button picturing Santorum’s disabled young daughter, Bella, pinned to her violet blouse. She had been with Huckabee but saw Santorum as a more complete candidate--solid on fiscal matters and national defense as well as on social issues. “This is just a sweet, sweet time,” she said. “I knew he had what it took to win, and no one thought he could.”

Also helping in South Carolina is Bill Connor, a 21-year Army veteran who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2010 with Tea Party support. Connor was impressed by Santorum’s linking of a hawkish foreign policy with conservative domestic values, and he now serves as an informal adviser. During his lieutenant governor campaign, Connor had made waves by declaring: “Frankly, we right now are fighting for the guys who are overseas fighting for us. We really are. And the battle here--I hate to say--this battle is more important. Because, basically, everything they’re fighting and dying for right now is lost if we lose it back home.”

Connor told me what struck him most about Santorum was his un-publicized habit of praying and going to confession before debates. “For someone to take the time for God, you figure he is putting his priorities straight. If you’re a sincere believer, God comes first,” he said. Santorum’s aides, he added, “are just like, ‘Wow.’ They’re trying to get the guy to do debate prep, and he’s instead going to go to confession and pray.” Connor knew it would take more than divine support, though, to deal with the onslaught that was surely in the offing from Romney. “I told everyone, get the Kevlar body armor on, because the Super PACs are coming,” Connor said. “There’s not a whole lot you can do about it.”

Alec MacGillis is a senior editor at The New Republic. This article appeared in the February 2, 2012, issue of the magazine.