Ready for round two: Santorum to jump in

Updated

PITTSBURGH — Rick Santorum will announce his second presidential bid on Wednesday, lacking much of the network he built in 2012.

Santorum surprised the country in 2012 when he won the Iowa caucuses and 10 states in the GOP nomination contest, despite being badly outspent; three years later, the former Pennsylvania senator seems keen on defying expectations once more, despite the fact that he’s starting largely where he began: with little funds and a limited staff. Still, if 2012 is any indicator, having the odds against him isn’t likely to be a deterrent. 

Related: At least three more Republicans to step into presidential ring

The underdog candidate will make his announcement near where he grew up, at factory Penn United Technologies in Cabot, Pennsylvania, where he’ll tout his experience as a senator for the state and pitch himself as a fighter who is better situated to win in 2016 than he was four years ago.

Santorum ran as a social conservative in 2012, stressing family values and opposition to gay marriage. This time, he is stressing national security.

“I look at the field and no one has the national security experience that I have and if you’re going to be going up against potentially the secretary of state, it’s one area that you can’t be beat,” Santorum told msnbc last month, referring to his eight years on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He’ll also pitch himself as a populist and a champion of the working class.

“It’s not really a change of message, but it might be more of a singular focus message,” a top Santorum strategist, John Brabender, told msnbc. “What he wants to concentrate his message on what he thinks there’s not enough conversation on and you’ll see a lot of that today.”

In 2012, Santorum ran his campaign on a shoestring, driving from county to county, overcoming big odds, and building a loyal group of fans. After his defeat, however, Santorum went back to work – starting his own conservative film company – and let much of his political network lapse and this time around, many of his 2012 followers have gone elsewhere. 

Santorum’s 2012 campaign manager, Mike Biundo, was hired by Sen. Rand Paul’s PAC last summer and Chuck Laudner, who famously drove Santorum across Iowa in the “Chuck Truck” is working for Donald Trump, who is also mulling a 2016 run.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee – Iowa’s beloved 2008 caucus winner – has sapped much of Santorum’s staff. Politico reports that deputy campaign manager Jill Latham Ryan and Nick Ryan, who ran the pro-Santorum PAC, are working for Huckabee, as are Hogan Gidley and Alice Stewart, former communications staff for Santorum. 

The Duggar family – a controversial yet popular surrogate Christian family and stars of “19 Kids and Counting” – is also supporting former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee after previously backing Santorum. 

But Brabender argued that although their infrastructure has changed, it’s better than ever, particularly because of a new grassroots network.

“Very quietly he’s built this incredible grassroots organization, it’s what wins Republican primaries quite frankly,” he said. ”I would argue the infrastructure that we have crafted is vastly superior to probably what we were able to put together last time.”

RELATED: ‘19 Kids’ stars dump Santorum for Huckabee

Santorum’s low polling may keep him out of Fox News’ August debate, following news that the network would limit participation to the top 10 candidates based on a national polling. Santorum has slammed the decision, but it doesn’t mean he’ll make it on that stage.

“If you’re a United States senator, if you’re a governor, if you’re a woman who ran a Fortune 500 company, and you’re running a legitimate campaign for president, then you should have a right to be on stage with everybody else,” Santorum said last week in Oklahoma. “So the idea that we’re going to arbitrarily—and it’s arbitrary, someone at 1.15 is in, someone at 1.14 is out—that to me is not a rational way.” 

Rick Santorum

Ready for round two: Santorum to jump in

Updated